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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Jonathan Agnew column
Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent in Manchester

I am sure there have never been scenes on an English cricket ground to equal those we witnessed on Monday, and England's bowlers gave it absolutely everything in an effort to force victory.

Andrew Flintoff
Old Trafford cricket ground might have been mistaken for the football stadium in the old days of terracing

But for captain Ricky Ponting, who produced an innings of intense concentration and application for the best part of seven hours, Australia would surely have been defeated.

With Old Trafford bursting at the seams with 21,000 revellers, England's bowlers were cheered on all day long.

Marcus Trescothick took on the role of conductor, urging the crowd to maintain their enthusiasm whenever things fell quiet, and when Andrew Flintoff took the wicket of Shane Warne with nine overs remaining, the whole place erupted.

What a catch that was. After 22 overs of brave defiance, Warne edged Flintoff to Andrew Strauss at second slip.

The ball went through his hands and struck him on the leg, but Geraint Jones saved his reputation by pulling off a stunning one-handed catch from the rebound just inches from the ground.

Warne was replaced by Brett Lee, who immediately survived a perilously close lbw decision off Steve Harmison and substitute Stephen Peters failed by a fraction of an inch to run him out.

That seemed to be the end of it but with 25 balls remaining, Ponting gloved an attempted pull to Jones and umpire Billy Bowden, who had an excellent day, had no option but to raise his crooked finger.

With the crowd baying and everyone on their feet, Old Trafford cricket ground might have been mistaken for the football stadium in the old days of terracing.

Brett Lee
Brett Lee celebrates Australia's great escape

But hard as they tried, Flintoff and Harmison could not take the final wicket that would have enabled England to place one hand on the Ashes.

This is developing into a remarkable series, which has surely ignited an unprecedented love affair with cricket.

The 1981 Ashes captivated the nation, but thanks in no small way to modern communications and the internet, listeners from every corner of the globe hung on to every word that crackled from their laptops, or computers in internet cafes.

Toy shops have sold out of cricket sets as new followers discover that for protracted drama and excitement, no other sport comes close.

In some ways it is a shame that the next Test does not start immediately, but while the players - all of whom deserve enormous credit for the excitement they have provided - take a breather, cricket will be the talk of the country.




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