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Australia within 4 wickets of victory in 2nd test

December 8, 2013

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Australia moved within four wickets of victory in the second test and a 2-0 Ashes series lead after ending Joe Root’s defiant innings late Sunday and exposing the England lower order once again to a hostile barrage of short-pitch bowling.

Set an improbable 531 to win when Australia declared its second innings at 132-3 before play resumed on day four, England lost captain Alastair Cook (1) in the second over and struggled to 247-6 at stumps.

Root (87) and Kevin Pietersen (53) shared a defiant 111-run partnership and Ben Stokes contributed a valuable 28 batting at No. 6 in his first test to help England force the match into a fifth day.

With the lights on in the gloomy, overcast conditions, and the crowd clapping in time with Mitchell Johnson’s run-up, Matt Prior (31) and Stuart Broad (22) batted resolutely and added an unbeaten 37 runs in a temper-fraying last six overs against the new ball to ensure the Australian paceman was restricted to just the one wicket on day four.

Also on the positive side for the English, it was the first time in the series they’ve put on more than 180 runs in an innings.

And with rain in the forecast for Monday, it may well help them avoid another defeat.

“Everyone knew ... we weren’t going to lie down and we were going to show a bit of fight and a bit of courage and be there at the end of the day,” Root said. “That’s going to have to continue for the rest of the series.”

Despite their strong position the Australians will be nervous about the forecast in Adelaide, where they failed by two wickets to finish off South Africa last November when Faf du Plessis batted all day to salvage a draw.

“We can never judge what the forecasts are going to be ... We want to get these wickets as soon as we can and not spend too much time out in the field,” said Peter Siddle, who led the Australian attack with 2-21. “The big factor is going to be the new ball. It’s only 10 overs old, so we’re going to have a good crack at that early on.”

Prior also has form in the match-saving stakes, having forced a draw and salvaged the series with his unbeaten 110 against New Zealand on the last day at Eden Park in March.

His highest score since then is 47, however, and he had 0, 4, 0 in his first three innings of this series. He and Broad also had some close shaves in the last few overs, with Prior leaving a ball that narrowly missed his off stump and Broad being hit in the shoulder by a bouncer from Mitchell Johnson.

The 22-year-old Root batted courageously as the top order crumbled but fell short of his century when he played back to a Nathan Lyon delivery, edged onto his pad and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin dived forward to take the catch — his 200th in test cricket.

Promoted to bat at No. 3 after Jonathan Trott quit the tour with a stress-related illness following the 381-run first test defeat, Root faced 194 balls and hit nine boundaries, to hold up the Australian charge on a cloudy but ultimately rain-free day.

The early departures of Cook, out hooking Johnson, and Michael Carberry (14), out hooking Siddle, were offset by the stand between Root and Pietersen — England’s first century partnership of the series — that took the total from 20-2 to 131-3.

But the removal of Pietersen and Ian Bell (6) between lunch and tea was another massive setback for England.

Pietersen played with rare restraint, despite hitting three sixes, until he played onto his stumps and was dismissed by Siddle for the ninth time in his career — more than any other bowler in test cricket. Bell, who scored an unbeaten 72 in England’s first innings of 172, could barely believe he hit a rank full toss from part-time legspinner Steve Smith directly to Johnson at mid-on.

Only three months after losing the Ashes 3-0 in England, the Australians could find themselves in a position to clinch the return series next week in Perth.

But Siddle said the players aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“We’re just worried about getting this test done,” he said. “The boys at the lower end can bat and have troubled us in the past so we’ve got to come prepared, be switched on and give it to them early.”