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Jonathan Trott sets pace to put Ashes in sight for England

The sting is still going rather well even though England were unable to separate the Australia openers by the close. With two days remaining the tourists need another 466 runs for victory; the home side need those 10 wickets. England would have settled for that equation in the aftermath of Headingley.

In this series Australia seem to have scored most of the runs; they can boast seven centuries to England's two (it was one until Jonathan Trott's superb effort today ). They seem to have taken most of the wickets as well. The top three wicket-takers are all in the touring party. And yet England are on the threshold of regaining the Ashes, which would be some heist.

It seems that Andrew Strauss's side have managed to win the vital sessions, even if his players have been outscored in this oscillating Ashes summer, none more vital, it now seems, than the last hour back at Cardiff where the circus began six weeks ago.

After the heady melodrama of Friday this began as a day of serene consolidation for England, which transformed into a romp as the lower order made merry against a side in a tailspin, in part due to their lack of quality spin.

England lost one wicket in the morning session, three more in the afternoon, but by then the lead was way in excess of 400. In the evening Trott reached his coveted century, becoming the 18th England player to achieve that feat on debut, while Graeme Swann despatched the ball to all quarters of Kennington.

England's only disappointment was that they could not penetrate Simon Katich and Shane Watson, who, once again, were resolute. Still, the Ashes are on the horizon. Only the advent of rain or a run-chase that surpasses any other in the history of Test cricket can deny England.

The Ashes were most definitely the focus yesterday. So far this match has not been hijacked by the farewell of Andrew Flintoff. He strode out purposefully and thumped a boundary to deep midwicket to open his scoring. Determined to depart in a blaze of glory he swashed, scoring 22 from 17 balls, and then buckled, hitting a straightforward catch to long-on off Marcus North. He was in the mood to try to clear the boundary fielders.


The Ashes: Andrew Flintoff's final glorious cameo
Where were you when Freddie ran out Ricky Ponting?

Sue from Shropshire was tagging her lambs. One Test Match Special correspondent told Phil Tufnell that he was in the Mekong delta in Vietnam. His air-conditioning blew up at the point the ball broke Ponting's stumps. Now that is genius.

It had to be Flintoff, of course. Who else can lumber through an afternoon like a hippo with his legs tied together and deliver the champagne moment? The Hollywoodisation of Big Fred has irked a good number this summer, the retirement by design and all that. His value has diminished since the second Ashes Test at Lord's.

Yet something needed to happen with Ponting and Mike Hussey untroubled by a pitch that two days earlier was thought riddled with monsters. Flintoff happened.

None can properly explain how it is that he remains upright such is the degradation of his right knee. Ponting must have thought Flintoff asleep. If he were, something set off the alarm within.

Flintoff jumped as if a bomb had gone off, gathering the ball on the stoop and letting go his finest arrow. Ponting was well short of his ground when the bails fell and on his way home. The day before he took a ball off Matt Prior's bat in the teeth. This hurt more.

Flintoff was the first to shake the hand of Mike Hussey, whose wicket at 10 minutes to six shifted the Ashes from one dressing room to the other, and last-man-standing Ben Hilfenhaus. The urn was English once more.

Ponting led his men down the steps adjacent to the pavilion to congratulate the winning team, lingering a moment longer at Flintoff, giants of the game recognising the passing of time. Ponting will not be seen in these parts again in Ashes combat. Freddie is off to his next hospital appointment tomorrow before heading into retirement from Test cricket with the Indian Premier League.

Clan Flintoff dominated the post-match parade. Wife Rachel, the kids, Corey, Rocky and Holly, mum and dad traipsed around the boundary drinking in the moment. Drinking anything else was tricky for one of sport's more enthusiastic larger lovers. "I have to be nil by mouth by midnight tomorrow so I had better take it easy," is how Flintoff expressed his party dilemma.

He was the last to leave the field, pushed up the steps by the missus, to whom he had promised dinner. Things have changed. "It's quite surreal," he said, "almost like a dream.

"This one's going to take a while to sink in. It's an amazing feeling. I'm sure I'll celebrate tonight but at the moment I don't know what to do with myself.

"It's a special moment, a special day in the Flintoff household, and I'm sure a special day in a lot of households. I'll miss days like this. If someone said at the start, when I was 21 stone, that I would win two Ashes [series] I'd have snapped their hand off."

Flintoff leaves behind a team in much better shape than the triumphant bus riders of four years ago. Andrew Strauss has found his m├ętier in the post of captain. He climbed from the midden of the West Indies tour eight months back to shape a victory in its own way as impressive as that under Michael Vaughan four years ago.

The talent mountain was not as high. It didn't matter. The teams were evenly matched, Australia edging the batting, England the bowling. England prevailed by making more of what they had at key moments in the series and trusting in the potency of spin; the last stand at Cardiff, Freddie at Lord's, Stuart Broad here and Strauss everywhere made the difference.

Strauss is not by nature impulsive. His perceived lack of imagination, particularly in the setting of fields when batsmen are set, has attracted criticism. That's for another day. He is a babe in the job. He has had to manage without his big dogs, Kevin Pietersen, who was lost to the series before the surgeon went to work after Lord's, and Flintoff.

And now the Aussies turn on Ponting-


Sorry Ricky, but now is the time to test out Pup as our top dog

SACK Ricky Ponting and make Michael Clarke captain.

''One thousand per cent right,'' Terry Jenner - talent scout, big cricket brain, analyst extraordinaire, Shane Warne's right-hand man and a concerned citizen of the Australian cricket community already eyeing off the next Ashes battle in just 14 months - told the Herald yesterday during widespread post mortems of the loss of the urn.

Asked to nail down one solution to Australia's woes, Jenner said: ''Put Clarke in charge.''

Effective immediately.

''I saw one positive from the last Test - Mike Hussey making a hundred,'' Jenner said. ''The other positive I saw in the series was Michael Clarke looking to me like a leader ready to be given the job. I can just see it in him and he should be captain for the Tests we have at home this summer and then we get another crack at England next year.

''For as long as Ricky wants to be in the team as a batsman, fine, of course he should be there. But I think the team needs some new motivation and a fresh change. To me, Michael Clarke will give us that.''

Skippers are in a results-driven business.

''I was in England a month,'' Jenner said. ''Every press conference Michael Clarke did was superb, he's confident in himself, there's a vitality in everything he says and does. When he walked out to bat at Lord's, when he strode out there and got straight into his work, I watched him very closely and he has become every inch the leader. He's never tired, never drained, never fatigued. He is as ready as he will ever be. At the very least, he should be the one-day and Twenty20 captain now. Ricky is having time off but, for God's sake, why does he have to be in all three teams? If he wants to play Tests as long as he can, maybe he shouldn't be playing those other forms.''

Ponting's standing as one of Australia's greatest batsmen is confirmed courtesy of his 11,345 Test runs. Serious questions about his right to the captaincy are unavoidable because he has lost series to India, South Africa and England in the past year to leave Australia's world ranking at a lowly No.4. To be the first Australian captain in more than 100 years to be defeated twice in England will make him nauseous.

''I don't think we'll be jumping to any conclusions,'' Cricket Australia boss James Sutherland said of Ashes repercussions.

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