Trott strengthens England’s grip

LONDON: Jonathan Trott was closing in on a century on his Test debut as England continued to press for an Ashes-clinching win in the fifth and final Test against Australia here today.

England, at tea on the third day, were 290-7 in their second innings -- a lead of 462 runs -- in a match where victory would see then win the series 2-1. Trott was 83 not out and Graeme Swann 34 not out, with part-time Australia spinner Marcus North taking Test-best figures of 4-98.

South Africa-born Trott shared a fourth-wicket stand of 118 with England captain Andrew Strauss (75) after coming to the crease when the hosts were in trouble at 39-3. England at lunch were 157-4 after Strauss was out shortly beforehand.

Wicket-keeper Matt Prior was run-out by Simon Katich’s direct hit. Prior’s exit brought in Andrew Flintoff, cheered to the wicket by a capacity crowd for what was the all-rounder’s final Test innings before his injury-induced retirement from the five-day format. But Flintoff (22) skied North to Siddle at long-on. Stuart Broad (29) struck North for several elegant, straight driven boundaries before holing out to Ponting.

England resumed on 58-3 , already a lead of 230. They were contemplating victory after pace bowler Broad took 5-37 on Friday in reply to England’s first innings 332. Although the pitch was not the ideal batting surface usually associated with the Oval, it was no terror track and the conditions could not explain a third first innings collapse by Australia this series.

Instead Broad, well supported by off-spinner Swann (4-38), bowled with good accuracy and control. Strauss resumed on Saturday on 32 with Trott unbeaten on eight. Trott survived a huge appeal for caught behind off the day’s first ball from Siddle.

Australia had chosen not to recall off-spinner Nathan Hauritz on a pitch with a reputation for taking turn. Their decision to remain loyal to a four-man pace attack left Ponting having to call upon the services of North. England were in danger of squandering their adavantage when Trott came to the crease.

But the 28-year-old Warwickshire batsman held his nerve and a four off Michael Clarke saw him to a maiden Test fifty in 89 balls. However, when it seemed England would get through the morning session without losing a wicket, Strauss guided North to Clarke at first slip after nearly four hours at the crease.