Clarke put Aus in charge

Australia assumed total command of the third Ashes test, reducing England to 52-2 after compiling a formidable 527-7 declared on the back of Michael Clarke's brilliant 187 on day two. Peter Siddle removed Joe Root (8) and night watchman Tim Bresnan (1) in the space of 12 balls as England, needing a draw to win a third straight series against its old rival, struggled during a testing two-hour spell after tea and still requires 276 runs to avoid the follow-on. Clarke played with a swagger to post his highest score outside Australia, adding 62 runs to his overnight score before becoming Stuart Broad's 200th test victim by chopping a rising ball onto his stumps with a fifth double hundred in sight. Steve Smith missed a golden opportunity to reach his first test century by throwing his wicket away but a late bombardment by Brad Haddin (65 not out) and Mitchell Starc (66 not out) tormented England's tired attack on another draining day in the Manchester sun. With Alastair Cook (36) and Jonathan Trott (2) the not-out batsmen, the hosts have their two most obdurate players out in the middle.

Cook, though, had issues with his back and received pills from England's medical team. It has taken one sublime knock from Clarke — his highest against England — to swing the momentum Australia's way and restore some belief within the embattled tourists after demoralizing losses at Trent Bridge and Lord's left them 2-0 behind in the five-match series. "As their one standout superstar batsman, he was probably due a score," said England spinner Graeme Swann, who claimed 5-159 but not the prized wicket of Clarke. Clarke cut loose in a manner that suggests he is back to his aggressive best after a below-par start to the series, displaying his full repertoire of strokes that included a measured slog through mid-on and a back-foot drive through point in successive shots off Tim Bresnan, pushing him past his best previous score against England (136, at Lord's in 2009). Clarke was given a standing ovation by spectators, with his 314-ball knock — containing 23 fours — surely one of the most important of his nine-year test career.

"How good was my innings? Ask me in three more days," Clarke said. "If we win, then it's a good innings. If not it's a waste of time." Steve Smith recklessly gave his wicket away by top-edging a slog-sweep off Graeme Swann to Jonny Bairstow, ending an Old Trafford-best 214-run stand for a fourth wicket with Clarke. It was a gift for England and Smith whacked his pads with his bat in annoyance as he walked off. In came David Warner, who received a hostile welcome by heckling England fans in his first match for Australia since returning from a suspension for punching England's Root in a late-night bar incident during the Champions Trophy in June. Warner only lasted 10 balls, though, before edging Swann onto the left thigh of wicketkeeper Matt Prior and up to Trott at first slip. Warner inexplicably asked for the DRS, perhaps mindful of the spate of baffling DRS judgments this series, but he was sent on his way and received more barracking.

"David has stepped into that pantomime villain role that Ricky Ponting has left behind," Swann said. "The English crowd is always going to look for someone to boo and take out all their antipodean antipathy, and David is obviously the man after his earlier antics on tour." The entertaining Haddin-Starc combination removed any faint hope England had of winning this test, with pace bowler Starc in particular producing a string of graceful shots worthy of his side's specialist batsmen to reach his half-century off 53 balls. England's batsmen were under real pressure for the first time this series and the openers made painstaking progress in the reply, with Root taking just a single in his first 40 balls and Cook tying himself in knots up against Nathan Lyon's nagging accuracy and turn.

Root was looking secure until he rocked back and edged Siddle behind to Haddin, with the Australian team erupting with joy at removing England's in-form batsman. Bresnan went the same way, although replays showed the ball clipped the top of his trousers rather than the edge of his bat. He will regret declining a review. "We will bat all day tomorrow into day four, get a lead then bowl them out," Swann said. "I see you laughing but I don't see why we should approach this with any fear."