Flintoff ignites Ashes once again

BIRMINGHAM: Andrew Flintoff's 74 took England into a first innings lead against Australia in the rain-affected third Ashes Test here at Edgbaston as the hosts looked to cement their 1-0 series lead.

England, at tea on Sunday's fourth day, were 316 for seven in reply to Australia's 263, a lead of 53.

All-rounder Flintoff, the bowling hero of England's 115-run second Test win at Lord's and the star of the 2005 Ashes, fell shortly before tea in what he has said will be his final series in the five-day format.

Trying to withdraw the bat against off-spinner Nathan Hauritz and play no shot, he gloved to first slip Michael Clarke having shared rapid stands of 89 and 52 with Matthew Prior and Stuart Broad respectively.

Broad was 20 not out and Graeme Swann four not out at the interval.

With only a session and a day left in a match where the whole of Saturday's play was washed out, Ashes holders Australia's chances of levelling the five-match series ahead of next week's fourth Test at Headingley were fading.

They did though put England on the backfoot earlier Sunday and the hosts were 168 for five, still 93 behind, when Flintoff joined Prior.

But by the time the sixth-wicket duo were separated they'd added 89 in 97 balls to take England to within sight of a first innings lead.

Flintoff, who made two fifties in the corresponding Ashes Test here four years ago, then pressed on and continued to play commendably straight.

England were 159 for four at lunch with Ian Bell, recalled in place of the injured Kevin Pietersen, 46 not out in front of his Warwickshire home crowd.

Bell completed a 96-ball fifty when he clipped improving left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson off his pads.

But having survived several close calls, Bell's luck ran out on 53 when Johnson swung a ball back into his pads to have him lbw with veteran umpire Rudi Koertzen at last ruling in the bowler's favour.

Johnson, who had struggled for line and length during the first two Tests, had taken one wicket for 12 runs in five overs.

Prior, who made a brisk fifty at Lord's, revived the innings.

Flintoff followed up by cover-driving Ben Hilfenhaus, who before lunch had dismissed England captain Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood, to the boundary.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting, with England 201 for five, brought all-rounder Shane Watson into the attack for the first time this match after an impressive spell of two for 38 in 14 overs from Hilfenhaus.

Watson, recalled after opener Phillip Hughes was dropped, had top-scored with 62 in Australia's first innings.

However, the medium-pacer was driven for three fours in seven balls by rival all-rounder Flintoff.

Prior succumbed to fast bowler Peter Siddle when, on 41, he miscued a pull to substitute fielder Hughes at mid-on, with England six runs shy of Australia's total. The wicket-keeper faced 59 balls with six fours.

Flintoff then levelled the scores in style with a straight six off Hauritz before sweeping the bowler for his seventh four to take England into the lead and bring up his own fifty in just 53 balls.

Broad, a left-hand bat, kept the runs coming from both ends with several stylish boundaries as England went from 200 to 300 in just 90 balls.

England resumed on 116 for two.

Strauss, who made a century at Lord's, had added just five runs to his overnight 64 when, he was caught behind off Hilfenhaus by Test debutant wicket-keeper Graham Manou.

And, on the stroke of lunch, Hilfenhaus had Collingwood well caught at second slip by Ponting.