Defiance of Clarke and North send England's victory prospects south


AND captain Andrew Strauss admitted his disappointment after a resolute stand between Michael Clarke and Marcus North denied the home side a 2-0 lead in the Ashes series.<br /><br />Fifth-wicket pair Clarke (103 not out) and North (96) put on 185 as Australia comfortably batted out the final day to secure a draw in the third Test at Edgbaston.<br /><br />England had earlier raised hopes of clinching back-to-back wins by dismissing Shane Watson (53) and Michael Hussey (64) before lunch, to leave the tourists four wickets down and just 48 runs to the good.<br /><br />Strauss had begun the day confident of becoming the first England captain to take a 2-0 lead in the Ashes since the 1986-87 series. Instead he will go into Friday&rsquo;s fourth Test at Headingley with a slender advantage but knowing victory will ensure England reclaim the urn.<br /><br />&ldquo;We are pretty disappointed, we came to the ground with high hopes we might be able to force victory. But the wicket died,&rdquo; said Strauss.<br /><br />&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t fault the bowlers. All credit to North and Clarke, they got Australia out of a hole and took them to safety. It&rsquo;s slightly strange that the ball didn&rsquo;t swing today, we could not get it swinging at all and that made life a lot harder for us.&rdquo;<br /><br />England coach Andy Flower increased fears that Andrew Flintoff&rsquo;s troublesome knee might not cope with a second Test match inside four days, admitting the all-rounder &ldquo;looked a little sore in that final session&rdquo;. But Strauss struck a more positive note on the fitness of the 2005 veteran and star of the second Test at Lord&rsquo;s. He said: &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll have to see how things settle down for Headingley but we are still pretty optimistic he will be okay.&rdquo;<br /><br />Clarke&rsquo;s ton was his second of this year&rsquo;s series and his 12th in 50 Tests, and drew special praise from his captain Ricky Ponting, who lauded his side&rsquo;s concentration.<br /><br />&ldquo;We knew what job we had in hand this afternoon, we knew it would be hard work but the North and Clark partnership was pretty special,&rdquo; Ponting said. <br /><br />&ldquo;It was good to get through the game the way we did. After we lost all that time it was pretty evident there was only one team that could win but full credit to our bowlers, they stuck at it and stopped England getting too far head.&rdquo;<br /><br />Ponting resisted the temptation to try and snatch an unlikely victory by putting England in to bat and the two skippers shook hands on a draw, with the tourists leading by 262 on 375-5, with 13.4 overs remaining.