Over-by-over report: evening session
Preamble: England need five wickets in 42 overs.The bookies have it England 11-10, the draw 4-5 and Australia 40-1. Meanwhile John Osbourne wants to know: "Why are pointless 'sports' for Pimms drinking toffs such as the Boat Race, Wimbledon and probably some horse races protected by the government and have to be shown on terrestrial television, while things of genuine importance and interest to everyone (ie Ashes Tests) are allowed to go to Sky." Well?
67th over: Australia 221-5 (Ponting 91, Clarke 24; 41 overs left) Ashley Giles kicks off this most crucial of sessions, with Michael Vaughan clearly unperturbed by the fact that 51 overs of spin have been bowled in the two second innings - with no wickets to come from them. But the King of Spain immediately has a chance to change this, but puts down a caught-and-bowled chance off Clarke, one he'll feel he could have held, one-handed, low to his right. Clarke responds with a four down the ground. "Now then," starts Matt Howell. "I'm tense. Tight. Any tips from readers on how to calm the nerves during the final session?"
68th over: Australia 225-5 (Ponting 94, Clarke 25; 40 overs left) Less than 200 to win, at a mite under five runs an over. Could the Australians still pull this one off? Especially with their 'top' batsman to come. Four runs off the over, with Ricky Ponting prodding Steve Harmison to mid on for two and nudging to short leg for one, with Clarke chipping in with a quick single to silly mid off.
69th over: Australia 235-5 (Ponting 97, Clarke 29; 39 overs left) A major appeal from Giles is turned down against Ponting - it was just going down leg. Clarke is starting to play very positively, ending the over with a crack to the extra cover ropes for four. Meanwhile, Ed Herman has some relaxation tips: "Matt Howell might find that logging on to this website with their excellent Ashes special helps to relieve a considerable amount of tension. Take that Ricky. In your face Glen. Or something."
70th over: Australia 242-5 (Ponting 103, Clarke 29; 38 overs left) An elegant cover drive from Ponting registers his 23rd Test hundred - and his fifth against England. It's been an exquisite innings and has helped keep Australia alive and bring them within 181 runs of an improbable victory. "Isn't this all a little silly?" moans Richard Clarke. "Why not throw Hoggy and Jones on and get them to swing us to victory?" I agree with you Richard, especially regarding Simon Jones, who has been massively underused in this second innings.
71st over: Australia 249-5 (Ponting 105, Clarke 34; 37 overs left) Clarke comes down the ground to Giles and effortlessly lofts him over mid on and to the boundary. Ponting adds with two more and Old Trafford is slowly losing its voice. Matt Howell's nerves are spreading. 174 to win.
72nd over: Australia 251-5 (Ponting 106, Clarke 35; 36 overs left, 172 to win) Harmison again fails to produce much from this ageing ball as the batsmen clip two singles down to fine leg. "Re 69th Over - I'm tense too," says James Prestidge. "These last two games have not been good for my heart! I preferred it when England were rubbish so you only ever had to worry about how much they were going to lose by on the third day!"
73rd over: Australia 255-5 (Ponting 108, Clarke 36; 35 overs left, 168 to win) "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET JONES ON NOW!" yells Paul McKim, whose upper-case work underlines England's quandry. Matthew Hoggard has now come on with the old ball, but both Ponting and Clarke continue to comfortably add the singles - and maintain the run rate. "I'm hoping, even wishing for the England win, but 40-1 against is worth a tenner," notes Olly Shore. "Not fussed if I lose it but the cash takes the sting out of our possible loss..." Shamefully, but possibly astutely, your OBO correspondent has also put a couple of quid on the Aussies at 40-1. Sorry, but they're 13-2 now.
74th over: Australia 260-5 (Ponting 110, Clarke 38; 34 overs left, 163 to win) Here's Simon Jones, albeit belatedly. I must admit I felt he must have been injured not to be bowling, but he's finally been given the ball. And it almost, almost, pays off; Clarke edges him through the absent second slip, with Marcus Trescothick's desperate dive unable to stop the ball. But Jones is moving the ball, with Clarke also flashing and missing outside off stump.
75th over: Australia 263-5 (Ponting 111, Clarke 39; 33 overs left, 160 to win) Better bowling from Hoggard, spurred on by very vocal encouragement from his England team-mates. That's how they're dealing with their nerves - by shouting. Might not work in your office, mind. The Yorkshireman almost gets Ponting outside off stump with a cut slower ball, but it just beats the outside edge.
76th over: WICKET!! Clarke b S Jones 39 (Australia 263-6) Got 'im! A cracker from Jones, who merely highlights the bewilderment at him not bowling sooner, jagging the ball back with some reverse swing and upending Clarke's off stump, after the batsman failed to even offer a stroke. Game on again! Four overs until the new ball and the crowd are going crazy. Next up is Jason Gillespie, who needs to bat like he did in the first innings - but that'll at least ease up on the run-rate.
77th over: WICKET!! Gillespie lbw Hoggard 0 (Australia 264-7) After a teasing couple of seconds from Steve Bucknor, his finger goes up to signify the end of Gillespie's innings and the cue for another eruption around Old Trafford - and GU Towers. Apart, that is, from an area of the Media section, where an Australian flag is quickly being lowered. A five-ball duck for Gillespie. "Do you think Warne has stayed in the pavilion because he's not talking to Ponting?" asks Damian Hebron, referring to the 'erroneous' reports of disquiet between the pair, alluded to in a Sunday newspaper. Whatever the truth of that story, he's got no option now, Damian: here he comes to join his captain at the crease.
78th over: Australia 269-7 (Ponting 117, Warne 0; 30 overs left, 154 to win) Having received an official warning for straying into the protected area of the pitch during his last over, Jones just strays down leg side, enabling Ponting to clip him effortlessly to the square leg boundary. "I'd just like to thank the dozens nay, hundreds of office punters who put a couple of quid on an Aussie win at long odds, to 'soften the blow' if they should claim a world record victory," says a joyous Neil Goodall. "This now means that we've effectively paid off any hitches and England can go on to win!" I feel I've duly done my part, Neil.
79th over: Australia 270-7 (Ponting 117, Warne 0; 29 overs left, 153 to win) Just the one no ball called against Hoggard in that over as Warne plays himself in. And both batsmen are talking to each other, just to answer those of you wondering (hoping) that the pair wouldn't be communicating. The closest Hoggy comes are two crackers outside off stump that fly past the edge. Agonising for England fans, but thrilling nonetheless.
80th over: Australia 271-7 (Ponting 118, Warne 0; 28 overs left, 152 to win) Apologies there OBO readers, I managed to write the last two overs as just five wickets down - not what you probably need to see. It's getting to us all. Anyway, just the one run from that Simon Jones over, Ponting clipping him to square leg. The new ball is now available, but it'll be interesting to see, with Jones and Hoggard bowling so well with some clear reverse swing, whether Vaughan will immediately go for it.
81st over: Australia 274-7 (Ponting 118, Warne 3; 27 overs left, 149 to win) Two balls into the over, Hoggard takes the new ball. He doesn't get any swing with it, however, and Warne gets off the mark with a prod through midwicket. Surely it won't be long before Flintoff and Harmison are given a chance to rough Warne up here?
82nd over: Australia 281-7 (Ponting 125, Warne 3; 26 overs left, 142 to win) Jones takes the new ball for the first time, but his attempted slower ball results in a full toss which Ponting drives comfortably down to long on for four. "I'm sitting in cowboy country Texas, pulling my hair out, wishing this country had a little more sense of playing cricket instead of that blasted baseball," moans Anirvan Chaudri. "If Australia manage to eke out a draw, Vaughan should shoulder the blame for not bringing on Jones and Hoggy and instead sticking on with the King of Spain's anodyne bowling!"
83rd over: Australia 287-7 (Ponting 126, Warne 8; 25 overs left, 136 to win) Harmison is brought back into the attack, but his over is costly, with Warne crashing him over the fielder at silly point and to the boundary. It surely can't be long until Mr Flintoff gets the nod from his skipper for another blast. Meanwhile, Ben Wrigley is another who's a bag of nerves. "This is definite P45 material at the moment," he says. "I am up against a tight deadline today and I cannot get anywhere with it as it is difficult to work a mouse with all ten fingernails in you mouth at once. I live in Chicago and this all makes me thoroughly homesick."
84th over: Australia 293-7 (Ponting 127, Warne 13; 24 overs left, 130 to win) Flintoff is indeed brought back and his first two deliveries have Warne in all kinds of trouble. The first bounces just in front of first slip after a thickish edge and the second beats Warne all ends up outside off stump. Credit to Warne, though, who responds with a neatly-crafted stroke off his pads to the square leg ropes.
85th over: Australia 293-7 (Ponting 127, Warne 13; 23 overs left, 130 to win) Ponting deserves real credit for his innings, amidst what has been a fairly disappointing series with the bat this summer. He sees this maiden over from Harmison off safely, albeit without playing any aggressive strokes. "I'll name my first born Fred (even if it's a girl) if he knocks 'em over," exclaims a delirious Craig Easterbrook, whose other half is sure to be delighted.
86th over: Australia 295-7 (Ponting 128, Warne 14; 22 overs left, 128 to win) A big, big lbw shout from Flintoff against Ponting, but the crooked finger isn't raised by umpire Bowden. Just a tad too high, but Fred really got to work out his vocal chords there. Two singles from the over.
87th over: Australia 297-7 (Ponting 128, Warne 15; 21 overs left, 126 to win) Harmison's turn to come agonisingly close to claiming Ponting's prized wicket, almost cutting him in half just over off stump. Another single apiece to the two batsmen. Exactly six runs an over required now, although survival is becoming more and more the likely escape route for Australia rather than chasing down the target.
88th over: Australia 298-7 (Ponting 128, Warne 16; 20 overs left, 125 to win) A fearsome over from Flintoff, who first makes Warne play right off the top of his bat, looping it, fortunately, to safety at silly point. He then beats him outside off stump, before a vicious bouncer rears up off the pitch, forcing Warne to take evasive action and prompting Geraint Jones into a good take behind the wicket.
89th over: Australia 298-7 (Ponting 128, Warne 16; 19 overs left, 125 to win) Ashley Giles gets the ball now in England's desperate search for these three remaining wickets. He's still bowling over the wicket, possibly a little too negative as he's going to find it rather tricky to get an lbw decision from out there. His over is tight and a maiden and almost makes me eat my words, catching Warne almost full toss on the toe - but it's inches short and umpire Bucknor's 'not out' decision is spot on. "Can you believe it, Channel 4 are showing cricket highlights at 12.20am tonight ending at 12:55am; what good is that?" laments Sam Blake. "The idiots. On before is a Wife Swap special, guess what's going to happen there, two nasty couples swap - an argument ensues. Then there is a Without A Trace double bill and, can you believe it, a programme called Road to V, live performances from two fresh young bands - jeez who cares, get the cricket on!"
90th over: Australia 301-7 (Ponting 128, Warne 19; 18 overs left, 122 to win) A nervous chip over gully from Warne sees the Australian all-rounder survive again, but only just. Ponting also escapes with a wild slash that he completely misses - but only by the smallest of margins. The bookies, having suspended the in-running markets, are back in business. England are 6-4, the draw is 4-7 and the Australians are 66s.
91st over: Australia 309-7 (Ponting 129, Warne 26; 17 overs left, 114 to win) Five men are around the bat for Giles, with Vaughan now able to commit far more aggressively now the run-rate is becoming an afterthought. Warne still cracks a four to square, mind, after Giles comes up far too short outside off stump. For the final delivery, Giles comes around the wicket - the right decision, but one that should have been made earlier - although it's too short again and Warne sweeps for three.
92nd over: Australia 313-7 (Ponting 129, Warne 30; 16 overs left, 110 to win) Simon Jones is recalled in place of Flintoff, but the stubborn Warne won't be denied. Yet, at least. No sign of him standing on his stumps here as he times Jones to the deep mid wicket ropes majestically. And then the real chance: Kevin Pietersen, fielding at short mid wicket, gets a diving opportunity off a full toss. It goes into the hands, but it comes straight back out.
93rd over: Australia 314-7 (Ponting 129, Warne 30; 15 overs left, 109 to win) As Hoggard returns to the attack, Pietersen is still glancing skywards in frustration at that miss in the last over. Five dropped catches - and no successful ones - in this series for Pietersen so far. If it proves costly, expect Warney to be texting his old mate with some thanks. Hoggard's over concedes just the one run to Ponting, who doesn't look like giving up his wicket any time soon. Warne is the player England need to target - but time is running out.
Drinks break: "I just can't bear this anymore!" screams Ben Lowing. "Is it safe to say that we're not threatening, we won't get these last three wickets and that the Ashes are lost once again?" No, no and no, though Australia will surely take the biggest psychological lift fromt his game if they can hold on.
94th over: Australia 322-7 (Ponting 137, Warne 30; 14 overs left, 101 to win) "Just thought I'd let you know Gareth, my boyfriend, has gone off to the gym sulking having decided that it's a draw and he can't take any more," says Maria Turley. "I believe this to be a good sign as it probably means England will now do hugely exciting things and win. I'd like to say what hugely exciting things they'll do but as a cricket novice I'd struggle frankly." They need all the help they can get, Maria, especially after failing to threaten in that over as Ponting swatted Jones away to square leg for four, before collecting another boundary with a fine clip off his legs.
95th over: Australia 330-7 (Ponting 140, Warne 34; 13 overs left, 93 to win) After Warne smashes Hoggard through the off side for four, Pietersen chases it down. However, with the ball clearly going to reach the ropes, frustration clearly gets the better of the Hampshire man, who slides in needlessly, fails to stop the boundary and careers into the advertising hoardings. He gets up, limping, paying for his overenthusiasm. "If the situation was reversed, does anyone think England would have held on as long as this?" wonders Byron Cooper-Fogarty.
96th over: Australia 337-7 (Ponting 147, Warne 34; 12 overs left, 86 to win) Another look at the run rate of just over seven an over may have one or two people worried again as Ponting first smashes Jones behind square, before nudging three more quick runs from the next two deliveries. Twenty-three runs from the last three overs. "I don't agree that Australia will be most lifted by the draw," argues Sam Carpenter, staying positive. "So far we have seen that their bowling cupboard is absolutely bare beyond the top three, and they know we know that. Strauss and Bell have made important innings, proving to themselves, team-mates and opponents that they can do it. S Jones has emerged as a titan bowler. G Jones and Hoggard have made some contribution. If the match is a draw Australia would feel they'd got out of jail, but England would still think they've got 'em on the run."
97th over: Australia 338-7 (Ponting 148, Warne 34; 11 overs left, 85 to win) This must surely be Flintoff's final spell now, as he is given the ball by Vaughan. However, the field setting becomes a little more negative after a handful of England players could be seen in discussion at the end of that last over; probably wary of a rising Aussie run rate. After a Ponting single, Freddie gets a shot at Warne, who plays and misses twice. "This is intense," says Robert Ellis. "I'm at the office and I can't leave until it's over. I'm an Aussie with a British passport and I'm praying that the Aussies hold on for a draw. It will be a fantastic escape. I've enjoyed seeing England do well in this series, but establishing a 2-1 lead would be worrying indeed - hold on, Warney!"
98th over: Australia 340-7 (Ponting 150, Warne 34; 10 overs left, 83 to win) Another landmark for Ponting with a prod towards cover for two; his imperious knock earns a rapturous standing ovation from English fans and Australians alike. It really has been a fantastic innings in the most pressurised of situations, standing firm in the face that all the bowlers have been able to throw at him. Latest odds: England 11-4; draw 4-11; Australia 14-1.
99th over: WICKET!! Warne c G Jones b Flintoff 34 (Australia 340-8) Incredible scenes as Geraint Jones plays the hero again. Warne edges to Andrew Strauss at second slip, who completely misses the ball. It rebounds off his thigh towards the wicket-keeper, but looks like dropping short until Jones makes a stunning one-handed grab low to his right, just inches off the ground. Brett Lee comes to the crease with Old Trafford rocking again and Flintoff beats him outside off stump with his first delivery. Another unbelievable conclusion could still be on the cards! We're now revertng to ball-by-ball coverage.
100th over: Australia 341-8 (Ponting 151, Lee 0 - eight overs left) First ball: Simon Jones's first ball tails away wide of off stump.
Second ball: A forward press from Ponting for no run.
Third ball: Another safe defensive stroke from the skipper.
Fourth ball: Ponting plays forward again for no run, but will surely want to retain the strike if possible.
Fifth ball: He does get a single to short leg, to leave one ball for Lee to face.
Sixth ball: With Lee facing, Jones gets the ball to swing away, catch an edge and fly towards fourth slip. It lands agonisingly short.
101st over: Australia 341-8 (Ponting 151, Lee 0 - seven overs left) First ball: Ponting continues to frustrate Flintoff with a forward defensive.
Second ball: A dive from Pietersen saves the single.
Third ball: Ponting clips to fine leg, but turns down the single. England desperately need to get Lee on strike.
Fourth ball: Flintoff beats the outside edge, but doesn't get any reward.
Fifth ball: Roared on by a fervent crowd, Flintoff gets Ponting tied up, but he prods it down for safety.
Sixth ball: Desperate to save the single, England get their wish as Ponting leaves a ball wide of off stump. A somewhat surprising decision.
102nd over: Australia 349-8 (Ponting 152, Lee 5 - six overs left) First ball: A delay with Simon Jones suffering from cramp - Harmison takes charge and demands the ball as Jones leaves the field to a roaring ovation. But the Durham quickie is pumped up and ready to take on Lee from the Stretford End. He strikes him on the arm first ball.
Second ball: Huge appeal from the England team for lbw, but umpire Bowden shakes his head. A very tight decision, but the ball runs off for a leg-bye. Ponting's back on strike.
Third ball: Ponting leaves it well alone outside off stump.
Fourth ball: Two more leg byes down to fine leg.
Fifth ball: After Ponting delays Harmison on his first run-up, the bowler surges back in, but Ponting presses a quick single to silly mid off. Sub fielder Stephen Peters has a shy at the stumps, but misses with Lee well out of his ground.
Sixth ball: A great yorker from Harmison, but Lee is equal to it, digging it out superbly and sending it through the fielders to the square leg ropes.
103rd over: Australia 349-8 (Ponting 152, Lee 5 - five overs left) First ball: Flintoff beats Ponting all ends up, but it just misses the outside edge.
Second ball: Forward defensive to silly point for no run.
Third ball: Another defensive shot keeps Flintoff out.
Fourth ball: Ponting gets forward to nudge it safely to the fielder at silly mid off - no run.
Fifth ball: An exact repeat dose of the previous delivery.
Sixth ball: Ponting leaves the final ball alone outside off stump again, giving Harmison another shot at Lee.
104th over: Australia 354-9 (Ponting 156, Lee 6 - 4.1 overs left) First ball: This is England's biggest chance: bowling at Lee. Harmison steams in, but Lee defends it well.
Second ball: Lee digs another full-pitched ball out and collects a single.
Third ball: Majestic stroke to the mid wicket boundary from Ponting, clipping Harmison away off his pads.
Fourth ball: Not out! A very close call as England and the crowd appeal for lbw against Ponting, but Bowden is probably right as the ball was a little high.
Fifth ball: Forward defensive for no run from Ponting.
104th over: WICKET!! Ponting c G Jones b Harmison 156 (Australia 354-9) Unbelievable repeat of the Mike Kasprowicz shot at Edgbaston. Ponting gets a short one in his ribs from Harmison and gloves it behind down leg, where Geraint Jones takes another impressive catch. Remarkable stuff with England just one wicket away!
105th over: Australia 358-9 (Lee 10, McGrath 0 - three overs left) First ball: Flintoff v Lee. One wicket will do. Incredulously, another tumultuous conclusion is upon us. In steams Freddie, with seven slips, but Lee plays and misses.
Second ball: Lee leaves the ball outside off stump.
Third ball: Forward defensive to silly point for no run.
Fourth ball: Ever so close for Flintoff, as Lee almost edges outside off stump, but misses - just.
Fifth ball: Flintoff has the ball swinging and it again beats Lee, wafting outside off.
Sixth ball: Lee times the ball a little too well, piercing the field, but reaching the ropes to keep McGrath on strike.
106th over: Australia 362-9 (Lee 10, McGrath 4 - two overs left) First ball: Harmison faces McGrath, but his bouncer flies over the Aussie's head.
Second ball: Attempted yorker, but McGrath bravely digs it out.
Third ball: An inside edge onto his foot leaves McGrath in a state of anxiety - but the ball falls safe.
Fourth ball: Another good defensive stroke off McGrath's pads.
Fifth ball: Harmison goes full, but McGrath plays the full toss to the fine leg boundary.
Sixth ball: Easy for McGrath to leave alone outside off stump. An impressive performance from McGrath in that over.
107th over: Australia 366-9 (Lee 14, McGrath 4 - one over left) First ball: Flintoff sees his opener played forward by Lee, back to the bowler.
Second ball: Good batting from Lee, who uses his feet well to get forward and defend.
Third ball: A massive lbw appeal, but umpire Bucknor is having none of it.
Fourth ball: Wide outside off and Lee can leave well alone.
Fifth ball: Back comes Flintoff but Lee defends well. No run.
Sixth ball: Lee plays neatly through mid wicket and the ball, literally, trickles into the ropes and puts McGrath on strike against Harmison. Six balls remain.
108th over: Australia 371-9 (Lee 18, McGrath 5) First ball: Wide down leg side and Geraint Jones collects after McGrath misses.
Second ball: Inside the gate, but agonisingly wide of off stump.
Third ball: Single to short mid wicket from McGrath as Lee returns to the strike.
Fourth ball: Another wasteful ball down leg side again doesn't make the batsman play.
Fifth ball: Outside off stump and Lee leaves it alone.
Sixth ball: It's a full toss on leg stump from Harmison, but Lee cracks it away to the square leg boundary. An incredible Test is over and Australia have survived manfully. Great credit must go to Ponting and the Australian tail and it's the tourists who are celebrating.
Postamble: And breathe. A hush has enveloped Old Trafford, with supporters apparently stunned by England's failure to win. But like Ponting and the Australian resistance, Vaughan's side still deserve great credit for this performance. Remember, were it not for the lost day's play, England would have been able to set Australia the best part of a day and a half to bat, if not more. And while the series scoreline remains 1-1, England will need to pick themselves up, safe in the knowledge that they still dominated the majority of this Test. So, two games to go. Trent Bridge is up next and neither team will be able to win the series before we all head off to The Oval. Thanks for all your emails; sorry I couldn't use or answer more of them, especially once we reached the climactic overs. Cheers.