MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – England’s Jonathan Trott overcame a painful blow to the knee to strike a brave century as he and Matt Prior savaged Australia’s attack late yesterday to put the tourists in a strong position to retain the Ashes.
Trott’s unbeaten 141 propelled England to 444-5 at stumps on the second day of the fourth test, a lead of 346 runs, and was completed after he was floored by a Ben Hilfenhaus delivery that deflected off his bat and struck him his left knee when on 76.
The Cape Town-born batsman slumped to the ground in pain and lay prone for a number of minutes as he received medical attention.
He got to his feet gingerly, however, and eventually brought up his ton with a deft flick through midwicket that raced to the boundary under bright sunshine at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Trott held his helmet and bat aloft in celebration, savouring the applause from the crowd of more than 67,000, before embracing his batting partner Prior.
“One I will definitely savour, but they’re all pretty special,” Trott told reporters of his fifth test century.
“But Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and all the hype around it and the support from the English fans, it would be right up there (with my best).”
“(The blow was) probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever felt in my life,” Trott added.
He and Prior’s unbeaten 163-run stand took the wind out of Australia’s sails after the hosts’ pacemen had threatened to stall England’s charge with three wickets in an incident-packed afternoon session.
Prior joined in the celebrations by smacking a pull-shot off part-time legspinner Steve Smith to bring up his half-century before joining with Trott to belt Australia’s bowlers to all corners of the ground in the final overs.
Wicketkeeper Prior was on 75 at stumps as the pair raised England’s hopes of further tightening the noose around Australia’s neck on day three with five wickets in hand.
Trott’s century may also bring back grim memories for many of skipper Ricky Ponting’s men, who watched the 29-year-old stroke a brilliant second innings 119 on his test debut at the Oval last year to help England seal the Ashes in the fifth test.
This five-test series is tied at 1-1 but victory for holders England in Melbourne will seal the Ashes with a test to spare and make Andrew Strauss’s team the first to take the urn home in 24 years.
England will fancy themselves to build an insurmountable lead on day three and have more than two days to bowl out Australia, whose top order batsmen have failed throughout the series.
“We all know that the Australian team, like we saw at the last test match, that they have some good players,” Trott said.
“So we have to be at the top of our game that we make sure we really keep the pressure on them the whole time with our batting tomorrow obviously and also the ball.
“There’s plenty more for us left to be done in this test match.”
Australia’s bowlers were handed the thankless task of protecting a paltry first innings total of 98 and were already under pressure after allowing Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook to romp to stumps an unbeaten opening partnership of 157.
Paceman Peter Siddle raised Australia’s hopes of limiting the damage, however, removing the openers in quick succession in the morning and later trapping Kevin Pietersen lbw for his third wicket after lunch.
In between, Australia’s desperation for wickets spilled over into frustration and the under-fire Ponting was involved in an ugly on-field tirade against umpire Aleem Dar over a video referral.
Paceman Ryan Harris had teased Pietersen’s bat with a delivery that went through to wicketkeeper Haddin, whose wild appeal for caught behind was neither shared by his team mates nor endorsed by the umpire.
Haddin demanded a referral but the video review showed no evidence of a nick and the decision was upheld.
Ponting and Siddle remonstrated with Dar for more than a minute between overs, prompting jeers from the crowd.
“It’s just cricket,” Siddle said without elaborating, when asked whether the incident fueled with the frustration of long sessions in the field for little return.
The heated moment seemed to spark the paceman, who had Pietersen dismissed shortly after and the breakthrough fired up his fellow seamers.
Mitchell Johnson soon had the out-of-form Paul Collingwood’s wicket when the middle order batsman slogged a harmless short ball to fine leg where Siddle rushed forward to take a sharp catch.
Johnson then captured Ian Bell for one, when he miscued a pull shot that Siddle again snaffled.
Johnson was denied a third wicket shortly before the tea break in unusual circumstances when his dismissal of Prior was over-ruled by the third umpire who spotted a no-ball that umpire Aleem Dar had missed.
Prior, who had trudged halfway off the ground, was called back to the crease before the video review showed Johnson’s foot too far forward.
The defiant Siddle refused to concede that Australia faced a hopeless task to save the test.
“We’ve just got to knuckle in and obviously keep working at it,” he said. “The boys are feeling good, it was obviously another tough day but they’re still upbeat,” he said.
“It’s going to be tough to win from here, that’s pretty obvious. We’ve still got to get five more wickets to get back out there with the bat.”