Yet another Ian Bell century, and yet another Shane Watson injury, have soured Australia's drive towards victory at Durham, leaving the the fourth Test hanging in the balance.
Watson injury puts Australia under pressure
Australia are up against it after another century by Ian Bell and an injury for Shane Watson swung the fourth Ashes Test in England's favour, says Fairfax cricket reporter Chris Barrett.
Bell's unbeaten 105, his third hundred of this Ashes series, left England 5-234 in their second innings at stumps on Sunday, a lead of 202 that in itself will not be straightforward for Australia to chase, let alone if a great deal more is added on Monday.
The tourists, with a first-innings lead of 32, had been well on top when Ryan Harris ripped through the England top order, leaving them 3-49, with a dynamite spell either side of lunch.
However, Bell once again made up for the shortcomings of his teammates above him, partnering in a century stand with Kevin Pietersen (44) that frustrated Michael Clarke's side and had him coasting to three figures again with little to no trouble.
The 31-year-old with the textbook technique is the ultimate Ashes late bloomer. It took him 31 Test innings against Australia before he finally landed a Test century, in Sydney at the tail end of the last series in 2010/11.
Now, with a trio of tons over the past month, he has notched up four hundreds in his past five Ashes contests. More worryingly, England have never lost a Test when Bell has made a hundred.
The latest one wrested the advantage from Australia, whose fortunes took a further nosedive when Watson left the field midway through his seventh of the day with hip and groin pain. He did not return and the status of his injury was unclear, but Australia were hopeful he would be able to bat if required on Monday.
"It’s obviously not a good sign when anyone gets injured but I don’t know it’s as bad as first thought," Harris said.
"When I left the rooms they were talking about him batting but they’ll assess it tonight and see how he pulls up in the morning.
"You never want anyone limping off, especially someone like Shane Watson, who is a pretty big player in your team. He’s obviously a little bit disappointed."
While Australia bemoaned the rain that drowned their ambitions of victory at Old Trafford a week before, had the weather not intervened in Manchester the outstanding Harris (3-74) almost certainly would not have featured at Durham.
A body that he throws at full throttle into his action, leaving nothing in reserve, has not been kind to him. Knees, ankles, shoulders, hips; you name the injury, he has probably had it. Only once before in an international career truncated regularly by injury has he strung together three consecutive Tests. And on that occasion, at the MCG against England in 2010, he broke down.
The mere seven overs he bowled on the final day of the third Test due to the washout meant, however, that Australia felt comfortable rolling the dice with him here for a third straight match.
That paid off handsomely on Sunday when, steaming in from the Lumley end, Harris finished off England's top three in quick time.
His ball to displace the off stump of Joe Root (2) was as good a delivery as has been sent down this series, the rival of James Anderson's beauty to Clarke at Trent Bridge, leaving the young England opener helpless as it zipped off the wicket.
When Alastair Cook (22) and Jonathan Trott (23) followed, the latter via a top-class grab over his head by Brad Haddin, Harris had England on their knees.
Bell and Pietersen, however, steadied the ship. Pietersen, who after getting stuck into Lyon at Manchester deadpanned that he liked to go after any spinner he faces, played the Australian orthodox with significantly more respect as Clarke planted three men on the on-side rope.
The restraint satisfied Pietersen for a time, but after tea he got itchy feet. He could have been stumped on 39 when his attempted skip and flick off Lyon went haywire. Five runs later he fell to the spinner for the second time in the match when a leading edge spooned up sufficiently for a lunging Chris Rogers to grab it at extra cover.
Bell went on with the job in combination with Jonny Bairstow (28) until Lyon deceived the young Yorkshireman. While there was a wobble on 97 - Bell's tentative cut off Bird edged over Clarke at slip - there was no stopping the series' most prolific batsman, even when he was knocked off his feet by some Harris chin music.
Australia, who will have their medical team assess Watson's fitness on Monday morning, could well rue the lack of runs they managed to compile earlier on Sunday.
Resuming at 5-222 they were rolled for 270, with Graeme Swann removing Rogers (110) and Brad Haddin (13) promptly, and only Harris's handy 28 ensuring some kind of first-innings lead.
Harris, though, believes Australia are capable of chasing whatever they are set to win.
"[The pitch] is not breaking up as much as we probably thought. It hasn't had as much sun as it could have had," he said. "The new ball is the key. If you get through that it comes on really nice. It's gotten quicker than what it was on the first day as well. If we just bat well we will chase whatever the target is."
The end of Harris' and Australia's innings was comical. Surprised to be given not out by umpire Tony Hill when thumped on the pad by Stuart Broad (5-71), the moment Harris saw the replay on the ground's big screen he began walking off, knowing the ball would be shown on review to be striking halfway up middle stump. The England team followed and Hill, enduring a forgettable series, was left to raise his finger to a vacant pitch when another of his decisions was overturned.
"The English guys asked me if I had hit it and I said 'No, I didn’t and I can't believe he didn’t give me out'," Harris said. "It was breaking middle."