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Rain may save England's blushes

Australia took control of the first Ashes test against England on the fourth day, declaring on 674-6 and reducing England to 20-2, still 219 runs behind, before heavy rain boosted the hosts' chances of forcing a draw.

Marcus North (125 not out) and Brad Haddin (121) both struck centuries, giving Australia a lead of 239, before England's Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara were both out leg before wicket in fading light. Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen survived until the tea interval, at which point torrential rain began to fall.

Resuming on 479-5, Australia began the morning session brightly, with Haddin hitting three fours from eight balls, all bowled by an increasingly demoralized Stuart Broad.

England responded by stemming the flow of runs with James Anderson, who produced a miserly spell of five overs that went for just nine, but seldom looked like taking a wicket.

Spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar at least managed to sporadically trouble the batsmen, but neither North nor Haddin offered any real chances.

Andrew Flintoff's first over with the new ball went for 10 runs and North completed his century in the penultimate over before lunch, when he took two off Anderson with a shot to point that also brought up the 100 partnership.

In the next over Haddin completed his 50, scrambling a single off Flintoff. The forecast rain initially failed to materialize and Australia accelerated after lunch, with Haddin bringing up the 600 by clattering Swann for six over midwicket.

Haddin became the fourth Australian centurion of the innings when he glanced a single off Paul Collingwood.


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