Cow Corner

Classical Clarke claims bore draw

Cow Corner

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What looked set to be an enthralling final day of Ashes drama was effectively extinguished by an obdurate knock from Marcus North and a dashing century from Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke at Edgbaston.

England were seeking their sixth Ashes victory in Birmingham, but after two wickets in the morning, it was an afternoon of graft and toil for the hosts and their beer-swilling band of supporters.

As Strauss's side embarked on a long afternoon of thumping the ball into a sluggish pitch, the Eric Hollis Stand kept themselves entertained with chants of "Stand up, if you love the snake, stand up!"

Strauss realised what it was like to be an ever-hopeful supporter, with North and Clarke's final-day resistance comparable to having your hard-earned pint-glass snake confiscated by a fluorescent-bibbed killjoy when nearing task completion.

The first wicket to fall was that of Shane Watson, who was caught behind by Matt Prior off Jimmy Anderson - that was after Andrew Flintoff had aimed at his funny bone and rapped him on the forearm. Frankly, neglecting to wear an armguard is like bouncing Peter Siddle: it is just asking for trouble.

Copious credit must be extended to Clarke (pictured, right), who hopscotched his way to the crease after the dismissal of Mike 'Mr Cricket' Hussey for 64 with all the enthusiasm of Phil Hughes on a 'Twitter-dating' night at the local coffee shop.

Mr Cricket found himself on a king pair after his inauspicious exploits in the first innings, but instead of dousing his face in sun block, he tempted fate in the manner of Glenn McGrath by kicking around a football on the outfield before play.

Some batsmen get upset when they are sent packing, some angry, others frustrated, but such was Mr Cricket's dismay at being dismissed, you imagined that he took the Bridget Jones approach of running a long, hot bath and gorging on chocolate. Broad had him caught behind to trigger the inevitable reaction.

At that point in proceedings, Australia were 161 for four, and England were deciding how to dispose of their Npower medallions, but then North strode out to the middle and put a proverbial pin in the party balloons.

If the term 'impeccable timing' provokes connotations of arriving five minutes before the end of Happy Hour at your local, then think again: Clarke is the embodiment of the phrase, caressing the pants off anything full and wide outside his off peg.

North on the other hand loves nothing more than an extravagant leave, shouldering arms with all the flourish of a Clarke straight drive, but with even less effort and an even bigger smirk of smugness.

If 'village' cricket makes you think of a portly batsman tucking grey hiking socks over whites so tight they are constrictive, you can now associate the term with Strauss's dropped catch off Ravi Bopara.

After reading the 'Captain's Handbook' to the point of recital, Strauss brought on his 'Golden Arm' for the magical bowling change, set an exact field  even putting himself in the line of fire - but then forgot the critical ingredient: the catch.

Bopara drew Clarke into a loose on drive, and the captain reacted as though he had sunk two pints of bitter during the drinks break: a belated lowering of the arm and a cursory look up to the sky was the extent of the attempt offered.

Graham Onions, who looks every inch a Richard Ashcroft tribute act, did not hit his straps in either of his spells as the partnership blossomed, with the bowler performing three kick-ups to entertain the crowd after one fruitless over. Strauss was not overly impressed.

The theory of Swann coming into the attack to bowl to Clarke was apparently to exploit the batsman's over-confidence against spin, which was logical only to the point whereby his mindset was a result of being quite good at it.

Swann bowled with his usual ebullience and enthusiasm, even providing an ominous presence at the crease, wearing shades so dark that you wondered whether he could peer out of them at all.

Clarke survived a close shave, literally, when an off cutter from Broad brushed his off stump and left the bail wobbling on its socket but, as the cliche-chuckers were keen to explain, 'it was simply his day'.

North was finally dismissed for 96 when Anderson snaffled an absolute blinder of a catch at gully which had the crowd temporarily on their feet, but that was the final offering from the increasingly agitated hosts.

New batsman Graham Manou was struck fiercely on the glove by Broad and, as a result, enjoyed a Powerade and a flurry of injections at the drinks break.

Bopara somehow managed to concede 17 runs against a defensively-minded partnership in one over, but then seemed to have dismissed Clarke with an innocuous delivery. The batsman was leaving the crease in dismay, before Rudi Koertzen finally came to his rescue and signalled a no ball.

Clarke deserved his ton and, upon raising his bat, the handshakes were offered to finally close a frustrating afternoon for England, who nevertheless still hold a 1-0 lead in the series.

SHOT OF THE DAY: Michael Clarke struck three exquisite drives for four off one Onions over, with the final blow as precise a push as you will see with the ball racing away to the boundary straight past the bowler.

STAT OF THE DAY: In hitting a century in his 50th Test match, Michael Clarke joins the illustrious company of fellow Australians Bill Lawry, Bobby Simpson and Mark Taylor.

USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: "Today's play has been unbelievably dull. I suppose if England were hanging on for a draw it would have been seen as a 'sterling effort', but this has been worse than sitting down to read the entire Argos catalogue in one go." (Daniel A, who has obviously done both over the course of the day.)

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