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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 January 2007, 23:09 GMT
Fifth Test, day two as it happened
FIFTH TEST, SYDNEY, DAY TWO: Close of play: England 291 all out v Australia 188-4

England produced an improved bowling performance but Australia ended day two of the final Ashes Test on 188-4 in reply to the tourists' 291 all out.

Steve Harmison took 2-34 and England had the bonus of Ricky Ponting's wicket for 45 - the Aussie captain was in fine touch before running himself out.

Earlier, England subsided quickly from an overnight 234-4 but captain Andrew Flintoff (89) emerged with credit.

Disappointingly, England's last five men only produced a combined four runs.

THE DAY'S ACTION (all times local to Sydney - GMT+11)

By Tom Fordyce

1823: Aus 188-4 Monty comes on for the briefest of jousts, and Symonds shows what he thinks of that by coming down the track and biffing him over mid-on for four. He then plays a horrible hoick which flies off the outside edge and just clears gully - a shot which has Ricky Ponting shaking his head in the pavilion.

That's your lot for today - thanks for reading. I'm off for some breakfast - possibly porridge from the BBC canteen, although its consistency is as unreliable as the pitch at Headingley. Fingers crossed it takes a stud at least.

1819: Aus 179-4 Harmie's last over of the day, and it's a good one. Hussey just digs out the final ball, which pleases the watching John Howard as he gargles on an evening beverage.

1815: Aus 178-4 I've been a fool - an Aussie never settles for second best. Symonds drives Anderson through cover for four, and Hussey repeats the trick to the other side. Just 112 behind now, with six wickets in hand. The pessimism's seeping back in...

1810: Aus 169-4 Symonds tickles one away for a single, and then Hussey keeps his blade well away from Harmie's steepling tempters.

1806: Aus 168-4 Another maiden from Anderson. The Aussies have settled for this now - don't expect any spectaculars. Quick heads-up for tomorrow - or later today, for British users: play will start at 1000 local time, or 2300 GMT.

1802: Aus 168-4 Five to go, and Symonds is batting like Boycott. Which would please Geoff. Good bounce from Harmison, and Symonds takes a clatter on the gloves that makes his dreds shake.

From Keith in Busan, TMS inbox: "Dave - that wasn't a wagging by the English tail, it was a death twitch."

1757: Aus 167-4 Jimmy A keeps it tighter than a mosquito's pocket as the tension mounts. Six overs left - can England winkle one out?

1754: Aus 167-4 Harmo is finally showing the form England needed about two months ago. Symonds sneaks a leg bye but that's the only run off the over, and Hussey cunningly fails to nick another pearler. The sun's wandered out again at the SCG, and there's shadows the length of Courtney Walsh's arms on the outfield.

From Dave, TMS inbox: "Good to see that the English tail wagged again - their four runs will make all the difference."

1746: Aus 163-4 Great over from Harmo - an absolute ripper-doodle (certainly not a word) doing Hussey all ends up, and another maiden. England need to nick a wicket here - two before the close and they're in there...

1742 - Aus 163-4 Anderson, hair tufted like a 2005-era Beckham, comes charging in and almost has Symonds caught at third slip as the big fella slashes with wild muscularity. Is that even a word?

From Alan Chettle in Canada, TMS inbox: "I'm glad Scott Heinrich seems to think the state of only the outfield will be the problem. I personally think it's the state of sport in England in general that's more of the problem."

1737 - Aus 159-4 Harmo gets us going again, this time with a huge bouncer that Symonds couldn't have touched with a bat extension. He then induces a thick outside edge than whistles through gully for three. Symonds has white zinc cream all over his lips as usual - obviously concerned about them going rusty in these damp conditions.

1730: We're back in bizzo - play will resume at 1735 local time, 0635 GMT. Whispers say we could get about an hour's play in, light permitting. There's your window, England. Any shouts on how this'll go? Anyone smell a couple of cheeky scalps?

Email the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on TMS@bbc.co.uk

1729: Steve Harmison's warming up with Kevin Shine. Still no official word from the umpires, but the covers are still off.

1725 - from BBC Sport's Scott Heinrich at the SCG: "Plenty of discussion and debate going on out there. If they don't get play under way by 5.30pm local time, it's stumps. The state of the outfield could be the issue."

From Richard Rosser, TMS inbox: "Simon - don't get carried away, we're always invincible in the rain. It's the prolonged sunny intervals that give cause for concern."

1710 - from BBC Sport's Scott Heinrich at the SCG: "The drizzle has cleared and the umpires have given the all-clear for the covers to come off. It is getting rather dark here, though. We could be in for another early finish, but Australia are guaranteed an uncomfortable last stanza in the middle."

1649: Still raining at the SCG, and covers still very much on. But it ain't heavy stuff - more Ian Bell than Andrew Symonds. I'm optimistic.

From Iain Barnfield in Sydney, TMS inbox: "I don't want to get my hopes up too soon - remember the Aussie tail can wag, unlike the English one which acts like a dog that ate mussels on NYE."

From BBC Sport's Scott Heinrich at the SCG: "This break in play shouldn't last too long. Virgin's Richard Branson is holding a press conference right now, trumpeting his aim to keep the Ashes urn in Australia. Say what?"

PLAY SUSPENDED FOR RAIN
Just as England canter around in joyous celebration, the rain begins to fall. It's nothing too heavy, but the umpires point towards the pavilion before Andrew Symonds can come thundering down the steps. Harmison now has 2-27 off 10.1 overs. I gave him a slating earlier on, but he's finally started to click.

From Simon Bown in Melbourne again, TMS inbox: "Hooray for Harmy! England to win the Test and move into a period of unheard of cricket dominance to shade even the Aussie achievements of the last 15 years! Oh - hold on - more foolhardy jingoistic optimism shining through."

Wicket
1625: WICKET - Clarke ct Read b Harmison 11, Aus 155-4 Delirium in the Barmy ranks - Clarke tries to cut a lifter from Harmie, gets cramped and nicks to Read. England, despite being abject for the first two sessions today, are right back in this...

1623: Aus 154-3 Huge noise from the Barmy Army, cheered by the unfamiliar sight of England applying proper pressure and the familiar sight of grey clouds gathering overhead.

1616: Aus 149-3 Hussey v Monty is developing into a most enjoyable little dual. Montezuma beats The Hussmeister with a devilish dipper, an escape which causes Chris Read such pain that he buries his face in the crook of his arm. Mr Cricket then advances Montywards and drives to mid-on.

From Gordon K, TMS inbox: "As a Scot, I realise I can never expect any true understanding of this cricket malarkey. But when Mr Panesar is England's throwing-person, shouldn't they be trying to get the Australian hitting-persons "out" by putting the catching-persons a bit nearer to the wooden sticks?"

1613: Aus 145-3 On comes Steve Harmison, and he produces another maiden. Remarkable scenes. Who said nothing could lift the human soul at 5am?

1609: Aus 145-3 Hussey's cashing in a few lucky chips here - Monty does him in the loop and induces an inside edge onto the front pad, only for the chance to drop a caterpillar short of Bell at short leg. Alastair Cook clutches his head in agony; Chris Read nibbles his webbing.

From Simon Bown in Melbourne, TMS inbox: "Just two more years for me here before I can claim Aussie citizenship - just in time for England to spank the socks off the Aussies in the 2009 series. Oh - hold on - clearly still English as the foolhardy jingoistic optimism shines through..."

1603: Aus 141-3 The good news for Anderson: he beats Hussey outside off with a delightful pacey away-nipper. The bad news: umpire Aleem Dar gives him an official warning for following through on the pitch, and Hussey follows up by hoisting him over long leg for a casual maximum.

Mike Selvey on TMS: "The Aussies have given us a chance here. Sooner or later we'll get a couple of proper wickets."

1558: Aus 126-3 The brakes have gone on here - not on full-on lock, but suddenly Anderson and Panesar are looking dangerous. Anderson doesn't give Clarke an inch, and one ball stays interestingly low. Latest chat from the pavilion is that play will go on to 0700 GMT this morno. Who needs sleep?

1555: Aus 126-3 Monty's all smiles after that run-out. He's loving having a pop at his old Northants pal Hussey too - he's been a skinny whisker from getting him out twice already.

From BBC Sport's Scott Heinrich at the SCG: "The roar from the concourse when the third umpire gave Ponting out was deafening. As it was four years ago here, this is a pro-England crowd."

1552: Aus 124-3 Michael Clarke strolls in and turns Anderson square to get off the mark. Ominous grey clouds overhead at the SCG.

Geoff Boycott on TMS: "I've always liked Anderson. I've got no problem being a Yorkshireman praising a Lancashire lad."

Email the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on TMS@bbc.co.uk

Wicket
1544: WICKET - Ponting run out 45, Aus 118-3 Sing hosannas - Ponting is out! No matter that it was all his own fault - England will take any bones they're thrown right now. Ponto pushes Monty straight to Anderson at mid-on, sets off for a crazy single and is run out by a direct hit. How's about that? Cue onset of nonsensical optimism coursing through English veins...

1540: Aus 118-2 Massive appeal from Monty, Read, Strauss and Bell as Hussey jousts at a fullish dipper and appears to get an edge into Read's gloves. Monty is clap-skipping his way into Read's arms when he realises Billy Bowden's not given it, and his mouth drops open. Hussey stands motionless.

1536: Aus 117-2 Reckon Ponting fancies a ton before the close? Chomping away on some post-tea gum, he creams Anderson through midwicket with two gorgeous pulls.

From Andrew Hall, TMS inbox: "Aza mate, I must say that for one who has been graced with the good fortune to be born an Australian citizen do feel free to emigrate to wherever you wish so that you are can boo and hiss the Australian cricket team, football team, netball team, hell the tiddlywinks team even."

TEA

1509: Aus 109-2 In comes Mike Hussey to join Ponting, who's on 37 not out. Seriously - how are England going to get these last eight wickets? Eight? Call me an exhausted pessimist, but how exactly is it going to happen?

From John Fruin in Liverpool, TMS inbox: "If I had to have someone shoot a gun at me, I would ask one of the English bowlers to do it."

Wicket
1501: WICKET - Hayden ct Collingwood b Harmison 33, Australia 100-2 Disbelieving shake of the head, rapid blinking of eyes - Harmison strikes! Hayden leans back lazily to a wide one outside off and slashes his attempted cut into the safe pouch of Colly at wide second slip. Harmison jumps in delight, Hayden spits out his gum in disgust.

From BBC Sport's Scott Heinrich at the SCG: "Hayden's departure was just the tonic for England heading to tea. The SCG is now under a thick cover of cloud and it will be disappointing if more inroads cannot be made as the day nears an end."

From Aza, TMS inbox: "In response to those suggesting taking up Australian citizenship: I was born with it and even that can't make me support them. Australians call everyone mate - and drop their trousers and fart in the faces of crocodiles when they're socialising. How can decent ambiguously self-esteemed Podean English speakers support that kind of barbarity?"

1457: Aus 100-1 Monty skips in with the usual Panesar enthusiasm - the pitch isn't giving him much, but he's getting some nice loop. Except for the ball which loops straight onto the middle of Ponting's bat and disappears through cover for four.

1453: Aus 94-1 I may be suffering from sleeplessness-induced visions, but I could have sworn I just saw Steve Harmison bowl a maiden over to Ricky Ponting. That's got me worried.

1447: Aus 94-1 Big cheers from the England fans at the SCG who aren't crying or drunk - Monty P comes on. Freddie's given him another very defensive field - three men on the boundary, and a big gap in the covers for a single whenever the batsmen fancy it. Which they do.

1440: Aus 91-1 Mockers - or prediction? Ponting clips Mahmood away happily to midwicket for three, while Hayden drives him past mid-on for four. England have as much control here as I did at 3am on New Year's Day.

From Dr Richard Ruddell Ph.D, TMS inbox: "We could always resort to bowling underarm. That should restrict the run rate and can't fail to take fewer wickets."

1436: Aus 84-1 Right - I'm going to try to put the official BBC mockers on the Aussie captain: "Ponting is batting so well that there's no way I can see him ever getting out. He's clearly in sensational form while England's bowlers are abject - he can't be beaten."

1429: Aus 77-1 Skipper vs skipper, and Australia come out on top again as Ponting plays a wonderful back-foot checked drive for four. Flintoff does an angry version of the Tim Henman fist-pump; Ponting waits and then clips him through midwicket for two more.

From Conor McQuillan in Ireland, TMS inbox: "Cheer up guys - at least Australia aren't in the Six Nations."

1423: Aus 71-1 Ooohs from the crowd as Mahmood's attempted slower one becomes a waist-high full toss which crunches into le rumpe de Ponting. Ponting stares back at Mahmood through eyes so slitted that he could probably bat comfortably in a sandstorm.

1412: Aus 69-1 Mahmood comes into the so-called attack, and Ponting eyes him with the relish of a starving man at an all-you-can-eat free buffet. Mahmood serves him an inedible starter before Punter tucks in to a short one down leg and Hayden munches happily on a leg-stump half-volley. Drinks all round - probably champagne for the batsmen.

From Rob Calvert in Brisbane, TMS inbox: "I totally agree with Peter Whittle. You could of course do like I did - move to Australia and become a citizen, which lets you finally support a team that actually wins, but this is of course a rather extreme measure."

1406: Aus 63-1 Eight off Anderson's over as Hayden helps himself to two short ones. Australia are scoring at way over twice the rate England managed, while Ponting has been deferentially ushered into his innings like royalty visiting an old peoples' home.

1400: Aus 51-1 Ricky Ponting, as intimidated by the England attack as a shark facing a goldfish, clips Anderson for four to fine leg, drives him straight for two and then drives though cover for three more. Five balls, nine runs.

From Peter Whittle in Taipei, TMS inbox: "My first New Year's resolution is to never again be fooled into expecting or having the slightest hope for anything but the most abject capitulation and failure by any team or individual representing England or Great Britain in any sport. At least that way the disappointment will be less crushing."

1354: Aus 42-1 Quiz question: does Harmison
(a) keep the pressure on with a miserly over which has Hayden in all sorts, or
(b) lollop in and bowl a pick-and-mix collection of long hops and half-volleys?
Clue: Hayden moves on to 12.

Wicket
1347: WICKET Langer ct Read b Anderson 26, Aus 34-1 It's a miracle! Anderson follows the world's worst bouncer (ball lands near his own feet, sails two Langers over Langer, is called a wide) with an inswinger which Langer gloves to Read down leg. That was almost a free wicket - a poor ball which should have been put away. Langer scuttles off, clearly distraught.

From Craig Walton in Sydney, TMS inbox: "Are Australia starting to bat like England? Getting out to poor leg side balls? Maybe things are looking up and I can finally go out in public!"

1342: Aus 30-0 That's how you do it, Steve - Anderson keeps Hayden jumping with another maiden. Hayden's scored just four runs off 32 balls, while Langs is tripping along at 26 off 24.

Hector Reed in Sydney, TMS inbox: "I'm leaving my job today and was hoping to watch the last three days of the cricket. The rate things are going I'll be lucky to get one full day. But my soon-to-be ex-boss is still an ass."

1337: Aus 30-0 Steve Harmison responds to being thrown the ball by his skipper by feeding Langer two slow, wide long hops. Langer slaps them away through the covers. Harmison looks confused, as if he had no part whatsoever in that nonsense.

Jonathan Agnew, TMS: "Oh dear - that was almost Brisbanesque."

1330: Aus 22-0 Freddie's not quite on it here - Bowden calls him for two no-balls, and Langer creams him square for four. Alfie wants a big score in his swansong, you can tell. Even without having to make up for those three spilt snags.

1324: Aus 15-0 Anderson fancies this here. Hayden gets squared up but survives a testing maiden. There was a lot of Hoggie about that one.

Anyone got any New Year's resolutions they'd like to share? Apart from the obvious ones about not blowing entire savings again on soul-crushing two-week cricket jaunts Down Under.

Email the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on TMS@bbc.co.uk

1319: Aus 15-0 Freddie stays in the attack. Langer pastes him uppishly through cover for four, and then survives a very close lbw shout. Billy Bowden thought about that one - Langer had shouldered arms, but the ball was possibly just whispering past the top of off.

1310: Aus 6-0 Langer and Hayden march out again for the afternoon session. Jimmy Anderson takes the first over after the break, and it's a good one - six in-dippers, one of which Hayden jabs away for two and another which thumps into his pad. There's a huge appeal, but Aleem Dar gives it the no-no. Fraction too high.

From Ralph York in Barbados, TMS inbox: "I had something called Mallory Weiss tears in my stomach and throat when I was 18. I was in hospital and my parents came in to visit me. As I sat up I threw up and, with my last glance before unconsciousness took over, saw the vomit sail clean over the end of the bed, leaving the white linen untouched."

1245: I've just found out that coffee from the BBC canteen has gone up in price as from 1st Jan - it's now 1.50 a slice. (Joke copyright Two Ronnies, 1977)

LUNCH: Aus 4-0

1230: Aus 4-0 Just time for one over before lunch for the Aussie openers, who are so keen to tuck into the England attack that they actually run to the middle. Flintoff takes the new ball himself but can't trouble Langer, who pulls him away for one boundary before jogging off for a sandwich.

I'm off for a coffee from the BBC canteen. Nothing better for a batsman who's been in the runs than a powerful diuretic. See you in 10.

Wicket
1218: WICKET Panesar lbw b Warne 0, England 291 all out Alas - Monty tries to sweep a full one from Warne and is trapped in front. It's all over - another quintessential England collapse. I'd like to think that England's bowlers will now cause similar mayhem in the Aussie ranks. I'd like to think that, I really would.

From Matt Hayward in Sicily, TMS inbox: "My flatmate in Barcelona once had mussels, but far from causing a collapse they managed to tie up an end well into the 5th day and beyond. It was funny at first, but after she had been trapped at the crease for a week or so we had to declare at the chemists and get her a couple of runners."

Wicket
1210: WICKET Flintoff ct Gilchrist b Clark 89, England 291-9 Oh dear - Fred charges Clark like an enraged bull and succeeds only in edging to Gilchrist, who casually takes a fine catch in front of first slip. So no ton, but a great captain's knock - over three hours at the crease, and where would England be without him? In comes Jimmy Anderson. I wouldn't take a tea break quite yet.

NYE tale postscript: My old man claims to have thrown up in bed with such force after eating mussels for the only time in his life that his discharge "hit the ceiling". I can't believe this is possible, although he swears it really did happen. Do you believe him? Can anyone else match that?

Email the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on TMS@bbc.co.uk

1205: Eng 290-8 It's heart-in-mouth time at the SCG. Clark comes steaming in for a full six balls at Monty, who defends brilliantly until he edges the fifth one to third slip. Luckily for England, it's Langer there - and he duly spills his third chance of the innings. No smiling at the back...

1202: Eng 290-8 Flintoff goes on the attack as only Flintoff can - thumping Warne through cover for two and then popping him casually over mid-on one-handed for four. 12 more runs to go...

Final NYE tale comment: What really annoyed me was that, when I spoke to my old man after the carnage, he said this: "You ate mussels? Even though both me and your mum are allergic to them?"
Thanks for not telling me that fact ever before, Dad.

Wicket
1156: WICKET Harmison lbw Clark 2, England 282-8 Clark does the business in only his second over, trapping Harmison bang in front with a first-class yorker. Flintoff's on 82 not out, with Monty coming in at 10 and James Anderson at 11. Reckon he can get to that ton?

1151: Eng 277-7 Here comes Shane Warne for his first histrionic twirl of the day. Fred plays it safe, turning down the singles on offer for the first four balls, hurrying a punched two to midwicket and then scrambling a single. That's good batting.

From Mike MacNamara in Madrid, TMS inbox: "I had a similar NYE experience, only with oysters, lobster and langoustine. Initially gave me a corridor of uncertainty at around 3.30am and by 5am had suffered a total middle order collapse."

1145: Eng 274-7 That's a relief - Lee takes a blow. Now it's only the New McGrath (TM) England have to deal with - Stuart Clark. Harmison survives by missing everything except the straight one.

NYE Disaster Story Continuation:
1am-5am: Vernon Vomit continues unchanged from the pavilion end, with considerable success
5.30am: Change of bowling - Runny Irani comes into the attack from the other end
6am-10am: Long unbroken spell from Runny - spraying it around a fair bit
12pm: Match ends in abject defeat. Tail ripped to pieces by ceaseless attack.

1134: Eng 274-7 Freddie is somehow full of smiles as he quaffs his beverage. He's actually enjoying this. Harmie looks a fraction more anxious.

From BBC Sport's Scott Heinrich at the SCG: "Freddie is doing his best to make up for lost time. He's batting with a long tail but his strokeplay remains controlled, aggressive and purposeful. He alone stands in Australia's way."

1134: Eng 274-7 Freddie pushes a single to mid-off, and that's the drinks break. Let's hope Harmison drinks some Not Out juice.

From Rob Pope, Liverpool, TMS inbox: "Sleeper - now that was a great band. And what a cutie Louise Wener was. Yum. Much better than that Bextor." From Gavin Winton, London, TMS inbox: "Imagine if Sophie Ellis-Bextor and David Coulthard had a child. It would have a triangular head! Sorry, my mind's drifting. It's my way of dealing with the horror."

1129: Eng 271-7 Maiden from McGrath, as Harmison gropes for the ball like a mussels-stricken man seeking the toilet bowl in the grey light of a cold January dawn.

From Graham Yapp, TMS inbox: "Let me guess what happens next with the mussels. They switch to the nursery end where they get even more movement out of the rough. Been there, done that."

Graham - I don't want to spoil the story, but...

1124: Eng 271-7 Freddie-Wan Kenobi - you're my only hope... Brilliant stuff from Flintoff, who cracks the rampant Lee through cover for four and then smashes the next back past the stumps for another. He moves to 71. Just stay there with him, eh Harmie?

NYE Disaster Story Continuation:
11.15pm: Further mussels emerge in stomach-soup form at Lillee pace, accompanied this time by whisked-up bread, salad, salmon and pre-meal pretzel snacks.
12am: 2007 arrives to the sound of everything that has ever been in my stomach catapulting onto porcelain.
1am: Unidentified chunks the size of Chris Read arc from stomach to bowl - many via the nose.

1117: Eng 262-7 Lee comes battering in on his hat-trick ball - but flings it way wide of off-stump. Freddie goes to 62 with a nibble to leg, which leaves Harmison free to play and miss at the remaining deliveries.

From Neil Lavery in Burnley, TMS inbox: "theaudience - the very epitome of indie-schmindie, jingly-jangly, Britpop-by-numbers who rose without trace and sank just as quickly. A less interesting and talented version of Sleeper."

1112: Eng 259-7 McGrath can barely stop the saliva dribbling down his chin as Steve Harmison comes to the crease. Harmie survives - for the time being.

From Paul Stratton, TMS inbox: "theaudience: wonderful. England batsman: woeful."

Wicket
1104: WICKET Mahmood ct Hayden b Lee 0, England 257-7 I did warn you... Saj strolls in, takes guard, prods cluelessly at Lee's bouncer and gives the easiest catch you've ever seen to Matt Hayden at gully. Freddie's in danger of being left all alone here. Heavier sigh.

Wicket
1102: WICKET Read ct Gilchrist b Lee 2, England 257-6 Sigh. New year, same old England. Read is unable to handle Lee's pace and movement and Gilchrist pouches an easy one behind the stumps.

1058: Eng 251-5 Chris Read looks smaller every time you see him. Could he be suffering from the dreaded Shrinks, as experienced by Mr Twit - husband of Mrs Twit? McGrath ties him up - Read, that is, not Twit. Insert your own "twits batting for England" gag here.

From Chris Harbron in Middlesbrough, TMS inbox: "I am shocked (and appalled!!) to read Tom Fordyce describing theaudience (no capital letter, but I'll let him off) as "woeful". Admittedly it's reassuring to know that somebody else has at least heard of them, but "A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed" is one of my favourite songs, and the name of my Fantasy Football team to boot! A retraction would be much appreciated!"

theaudience - woeful or wonderful? I'm happy to put it to a public vote...

Email the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on TMS@bbc.co.uk

Text the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on 84040 (from the UK only)

Wicket
1048: WICKET - Collingwood ct Gilchrist b McGrath 27 - England 245-5 Just after Freddie goes to his 50 with a cover drive, McGrath strikes - getting extra bounce just short of a length and taking the edge of Colly's bat. Ah well - that didn't take long, did it?

1044: Eng 242-4 Colly cuts loose - relatively so. After playing and missing at Lee twice, he flicks him down to deep square leg for two.

To continue the NYE chat, the mussels had been down approximately one hour 15 mins when the first twinges were felt in the midwicket area. The timing then went a bit like this:
10.29pm: batsman signals for assistance
10.30pm: first mussels re-emerge at pace from the pavilion end

1040: Eng 240-4 Lord alive - McGrath beats Fred all ends up with an absolute snorter - through the gate and so close to the top of middle that the bails probably kissed the stumps a goodbye. England are finding this mighty tough at the moment.

1034: Eng 240-4 Lee fancies this - he sticks to a just-outside-off line, and Colly's finding it tough. He jabs down on an inswinger and pulls his bat out of the way of another outswinger with a swordsman's flourish.

1028: Eng 238-4 McGrath trundles in to Flintoff and is as on the money as Elizabeth II. Freddie squirts a four through gully off a thickish edge.

To start the New Year's Eve tale, I'd decided to play it safe ahead of these five night-shifts by having a quiet meal in with my big sister and her family. Not rock and roll, but that's how dedicated we are the BBC - nothing gets in the way of our work. Ever. Just ask Lisa I'Anson, Chris Evans etc. All was well until I tucked into a large plate of mussels - for the first time in my life...

1022: Eng 234-4 Whoosh - great opening over from Lee, and Colly didn't like it one little bit. The first four balls swing away at speed before Colly edges the fourth low to Justin Langer's left at wide third slip - but the soon-to-be-retired leftie spills the chance. JL - you've just not dropped the Ashes.

1018: Here we go - Flintoff and Collingwood stride to the middle, windmilling their arms in determined fashion. Looks like Brett Lee to open the attack - with the new ball. There's a few clouds overhead, a touch of wind and a crowd that's growing all the time.

1012: Although having said that, Theaudience did produce Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Which is either a good or bad thing, depending on how you feel about moon-faced disco dollies with stuttering solo careers.

1005: I could be selling Freddie and Colly short there. But you know what I mean. To quote woeful post-Britpop band Theaudience (their grammar, not mine), "a pessimist is never disappointed."

1000: Listen - I'll fill you in on The Worst New Year's Eve In History in a moment. You'll like it - it's a good tale. In the meantime, welcome once again to an evening of foolish optimism. England played well yesterday, which has probably duped us all once again into believing - against all possible evidence from the last miserable two months - that they will put the Aussies to the sword today.

Email the BBC Sport website and the TMS team on TMS@bbc.co.uk

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