Andrew Flintoff's Ashes farewell tour rolls on. The departing allrounder added one more Edgbaston memory to an already rich anthology with a powerful six to draw England level with Australia's first-innings total, followed by a boundary to overtake it. The latter stroke delivered him to a near even-time half-century - his first since December - as Flintoff positioned England for a fifth-day victory tilt.
At the very ground at which he notched his highest Test score in 2004, and earned Man-of-the-Match honours against the Australians four years ago, Flintoff propelled England from a precarious position at 168 for 5 at the fall of Ian Bell's wicket to an imposing 316 for seven at the tea break, holding an overall first-innings lead of 53 runs. Flintoff displayed indomitable intent from the outset by engaging a rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson in verbal combat, then channeled his aggression through his bat, highlighted by a blazing sequence in which the England total advanced from 200 to 250 in the space of just 38 deliveries.
Peter Siddle and Shane Watson bore the brunt of Flintoff's powerful stroke play, releasing much of the pressure created by Ben Hilfenhaus and Johnson in the first session. Siddle, as has become custom on this tour, interspersed testing inswingers and seamers with too many loose deliveries to concede 47 runs from an erratic seven-over spell. Watson, meanwhile, was set upon from the outset; his comeback spell in Test cricket yielding the unflattering figures of 0 for 23 from three overs.
Flintoff was particularly strong on the drive and pull, and raised the roof at Edgbaston when he bashed Nathan Hauritz into the long-on boundary rope for his first six of the innings. Hauritz exacted a measure of revenge by having him caught at first slip for 74 (from 79 deliveries), but not before the powerful all-rounder had guided England past Australia's first innings total of 263 and beyond the 300-run mark.
Prior to Flintoff's 89-run sixth-wicket partnership with Matt Prior, Australia had enjoyed the better of proceedings on a fourth morning delayed by an hour due to a sodden outfield. Hilfenhaus terrorised England's batsmen with a lion-hearted 14-over opening spell during which he swung the ball both ways and accounted for Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood. Of similar encouragement was the performance of Johnson, who bowled straighter than at any other stage on tour and was rewarded with the wicket of Ian Bell for a charmed innings of 53.
Australia might well have struck earlier on the fourth morning had Rudi Koertzen found in favour of Siddle. The fast bowler rapped Bell below the knee roll with a prodigious inswinger only for Koertzen, under the spotlight for the second consecutive Test match, to rule hiin the batsman's favour. The decision was Bell's second reprieve following a closer lbw shout to Johnson late on the second day, but he successfully navigated his way through the first hour of play to advance to 46 not out at the lunch break.
Strauss looked the more authoritative of England's overnight pair, and few would have bet against him raising his second century in as many Tests. As it was, Strauss became the first batsman from either side to pass the 300-run mark this series before attempting to cut too close to his body to a tailing Hilfenhaus delivery. His top-edge was accepted by the impressive Graham Manou.
Australia bowled a noticeably fuller length than on Friday and were rewarded with appreciable swing. Ricky Ponting predicted the Duke ball would begin to swing around the 40th over, and was vindicated when both Hilfenhaus and Siddle found aerial movement from the first over on Sunday. Three of Hilfenhaus' first four overs were maidens, as Australia sought to create a rare period of pressure in defence of their first innings total 263.
The wickets of Strauss and Collingwood - the latter to a loose drive from an away-swinging delivery accepted by Ponting at second slip - were Australia's primary highlight-reel moments in the first session, but Johnson's two-over burst prior to the lunch break was arguably the greater source of optimism. Australia's selectors have gone to extraordinary lengths to accomodate the misfiring paceman this series - ranging from pep-talks to the inclusion of an insurance seamer in Watson for Edgbaston - and their faith appeared on the way to being repaid.
His first delivery was full, fast and tailing into Bell, who, if not for the faintest of inside edges onto his pad, might well have been pavilion-bound. Bell fended a shorter ball from Johnson's next over into the chest of Simon Katich at short-leg, which required the fielder to leave the field for much of the afternoon to receive treatment for bruising.
Johnson finally got his man when he trapped Bell leg-before as part of a five-over spell of 1 for 12. Siddle was later the beneficiary of Prior's indiscipline; the batsman attempting to pull for the second time in as many deliveries from outside off-stump, and ballooning a catch to Phillip Hughes, substituting for Katich, at mid-on.