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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 September 2005, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Opening pair keep Aussies in hunt
Fifth Test, The Oval, day three (stumps):
England 373 v Australia 277-2

Matthew Hayden
Australia opener Hayden returned to form in a big way

Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer hit centuries but rain on day three meant Australia were running out of time to force a win and retain the Ashes.

The visitors closed on 277-2 - 96 runs behind England - after a day reduced to just 45.4 overs by weather stoppages.

Hayden was unbeaten on 110, his 21st century and first since July last year, with Damien Martyn nine not out.

Australia's openers put on 185 runs together at The Oval, with Justin Langer (105) bowled by Steve Harmison.

Andrew Flintoff claimed England's other strike of the day, skipper Ricky Ponting for 35, before, for the second day in a row, Australia accepted the umpires' offer to leave the field for poor light, this time 5.2 overs ahead of time.

Drama was in the offing from the very first ball of the day, which was put back 30 minutes because of early morning rain.

Steve Harmison
Harmison worked Langer over with short stuff before removing him

Matthew Hoggard trapped Langer on his crease with a full-pitched inswinger only for his huge lbw appeal to be turned down, despite the ball looking to hold its line in front of leg-stump.

Each opener survived clear run-out chances inside the first two overs, and Hayden edged inches wide of Andrew Strauss at second slip. He also escaped a decent lbw shout, this time off Flintoff.

There was still some forthright strokeplay, best illustrated by Langer's crunching cover drive that sent Hoggard to the fence.

Hayden, too, went after the Yorkshire paceman, though his off-drive went perilously close to the prowling Paul Collingwood's outstretched left hand.

The heavens opened after 7.3 overs to force players from the field, much to the crowd's delight.

The interruption lasted half an hour, after which Hayden pushed a quick single to register his first half-century of the series and first for 10 innings since the second Test against New Zealand in March.

The achievement seemed to have a liberating effect, and he hooked Harmison's first ball for four before brutalising a poor Hoggard delivery through the covers as lunch approached.

Harmison targeted Langer with short-pitched bowling as England changed tack after the interval.

Two deliveries were called wides and two were helped on their way to the fence, shots that awarded Langer his 22nd Test century and eighth place in Australia's all-time leading scorer list, just ahead of Sir Don Bradman.

But a fifth ball, not nearly so short, cramped the nuggety left-hander for room and was edged onto his stumps, an act which proved to be the last before heavy rain brought a premature end to a second session that lasted 5.4 overs.

Justin Langer
Langer hit Australia's second ton of the series, Hayden the third

Ponting was handed a delicious slice of luck when play resumed, appearing to be caught at bat-pad off Ashley Giles but escaping umpire Billy Bowden's crooked finger of fate.

Hayden continued in supreme fettle, straight-driving Flintoff for two of his 15 boundaries to move into triple figures, though he was fortunate an edge off Ashley Giles split keeper and slip.

And again rain fell, stopping play for a further hour.

Flintoff bowled tightly all day but he returned from the latest delay with added pep, producing an evening spell of speed and venom.

The breakthrough he deserved came his way after the delay, Ponting edging a ball that got big on him to Strauss at gully.

The strike saw Flintoff emulate Ian Botham to score 300 runs and take 20 wickets in an Ashes series, the only two players ever to do so.

Martyn flirted with danger, appearing to faintly edge Flintoff behind, but Australia's third wicket remained intact as twilight descended on south London.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Australia's Justin Langer


Interview: Australia's Matthew Hayden



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