ADELAIDE, December 6 – Australia suffered a massive blow with the loss of key batsman Michael Clarke in the final over Monday to leave them facing an uphill battle to salvage the second Ashes Test against England.
Clarke looked set to go to stumps leading a fighting rearguard action at the Adelaide Oval only to fall to a catch close to the wicket off part-time spinner Kevin Pietersen, with only four balls left of the fourth day.
Clarke had appeared to have recaptured his best form after cheap dismissals in Brisbane and the Adelaide first innings before he was out for 80.
At stumps Australia, chasing 375 runs to make England bat again, were 238 for four with Mike Hussey the not out batsman on 44.
Clarke was initially given not out and refused to walk off until England called for a referral and replays showed that the ball had come off his bat to Alastair Cook fielding close in.
"Just want to apologise for not walking off the ground tonight when I hit the ball. I was just so disappointed, my emotions got best of me," Clarke said via Twitter after play.
England spinner Graeme Swann, who looms as his team’s major weapon on Tuesday’s final day, said it was a significant wicket for the tourists.
"It’s a massive bonus for us. It was tough going for us in the last session, their two best players against spin at crease, both playing well," he said.
"Sometimes you need a bit of inspiration and who else but KP (Pietersen) to come on and give you it."
Hussey said it was a "kick in the guts" to lose Clarke.
"We’re going to have to keep fighting hard and I thought we fought pretty hard today. It was a bit of a kick in the guts to lose that one in the last over."
Clarke, the Australian vice-captain, went to the crease under pressure following scores of nine and two and his team needing him to produce a long match-saving innings against dominant England, who are chasing their first win in Adelaide since 1995.
Rain might yet assist Australia’s rearguard after a storm suspended play for an hour after tea and with more bad weather forecast for Tuesday’s final day.
Top-rated spinner Swann proved the major threat with his sharp turn out of the footmarks and he captured the key wickets of Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting.
Katich’s painful resistance ended in the 30th over, when he pushed forward to Swann and got a touch for wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
The stoic left-hander battled a painful Achilles injury and hobbled for his 43 off 85 balls to help build an opening stand of 84.
Katich later went to hospital to have scans of his injury with the results expected on Tuesday.
Swann got Ponting’s prized wicket when the Aussie skipper came forward and edged to slip, where Paul Collingwood snapped up a great low two-handed catch.
It was a huge setback for the Australians, with Ponting lasting only 21 minutes for his nine when occupation was more important than runs.
Opener Shane Watson again failed to go on after a good start when he nicked Steven Finn to Andrew Strauss at first slip for 57.
England amassed their fifth highest innings in Ashes Tests and their second best in Australia, only surpassed by a 636 scored in Sydney in 1928.
Skipper Strauss finally called a halt to the run onslaught at 620 for five with Ian Bell unbeaten on 68 and wicketkeeper Matt Prior not out 27.
The tourists lost only the wicket of Pietersen for his Test best score of 227 in the 40 minutes of free scoring, in which they added 69 off nine overs.
Pietersen smashed beleaguered spinner Xavier Doherty’s first ball of the day through midwicket for four but went for a lusty swing at the next ball which turned sharply out of the rough to Katich at slip.
Pietersen amassed his haul off 308 balls with 34 fours and a six and he shared in a 116-run partnership with Bell in 125 minutes.
His previous best Test score was 226 against the West Indies in May 2007.
On Sunday Pietersen became only the fifth Englishman to score a double century in Australia with his first century in 28 Test innings since his 102 against the West Indies at Port-of-Spain in March last year.
Dominant England have amassed 1,137 runs runs for six wickets in their last two innings in this series.
England paceman Stuart Broad strained stomach muscles during his second bowling spell but returned to the field after the rain break.