England put themselves in pole position to take the first Test of the series at Trent Bridge on Saturday after a late bowling surge left Australia with all to do on the final day’s play.
The hosts were struggling to make any real in roads into the Aussie middle order until three quick fire wickets changed the whole complexion of the match at stumps.
From 161-3 and going strong in chase of England’s target of 311, Steven Smith, Phil Hughes and skipper Michael Clarke were all dismissed deep into the last session of the day leaving the tourists on 174-6, still 137 runs adrift of potential victory.
And the change in momentum came as no surprise considering how topsy-turvy and thrilling the opening contest of this year’s series has been since the first ball was bowled on Wednesday morning.
England were in control at the beginning of day four and managed to add 49 runs onto their overnight score before being bowled out before lunch for 375, Ian Bell proving to be star of the show with a century which was backed up superbly by Stuart Broad who hit 65 – albeit with Friday’s controversial ‘not out’ decision still providing a major talking point.
The lead of 311 made Alistair Cook and co heavy favourites to wrap up a crucial first Test success but things didn’t quite go to script for England during Saturday afternoon when Australia fought back with intent.
Openers Shane Watson and Chris Rogers both contributed well with knocks of 46 and 52 respectively, however Ed Cowan’s stay at the crease was a little disappointing having gone for just 14 caught by Jonathan Trott off a Joe Root delivery.
Nevertheless, with Clarke, Smith and Hughes still to get properly involved, Australia had suddenly stolen the momentum and looked a good thing to pick off what would be the highest fourth innings Test chase at the Nottingham venue.
But as Clarke edged to Matt Prior off Broad for just 23, England sensed a chance to turn the screw and it was up to Graeme Swann to step up to the plate for the first time in the match as he trapped Smith (17) and Hughes (0) lbw to the delight of the Barmy Army who believed the Test was slowly slipping away.
Aussie captain Clarke insisted at the close that he was still confident of saving the match on day five but with only four wickets remaining, England must surely now seal the deal with the Three Lions bowlers tails well and truly up.
Whatever the result on Sunday, the first Test has so far lived up to the hype and expectation which usually surrounds the series and all spectators will be hoping that it has merely been a sign of further excitement to come.
Anything but victory for England on Sunday from this position however could damage the morale of the hosts going forward over the summer.