| Brett Lee is congratulated by teammates after dismissing Michael Vaughan on Day I of the fifth and final Ashes Test in Sydney on Thursday. (AFP)
Sydney: Mark Butcher cashed in on four lives to score his third century against Australia and lift English hopes of avoiding a dreaded Ashes series whitewash in the final Test at the Sydney Crickd Ground on Thursday.
Butcher, dropped twice and a survivor of two vociferous appeals, bounced back from an underachieving series to claim his sixth hundred in his 50th Test for England to savour one of their best days on tour before a full house at the SCG.
Supported by a 166-run third-wicket stand with skipper Nasser Hussain (75), Butcher provided the tourists with a slow but steady start on the opening day.
He was finally out four overs before stumps when he dragged a Brett Lee thunderbolt on to his stumps for 124. He batted for 337 minutes and faced 276 balls hitting 19 boundaries.
At stumps, England were 264 for five with Crawley on six and Alec Stewart ending the day with successive fours to be unbeaten on 20 off 13 balls.
Australia are aiming for only the second Ashes clean sweep in history., but without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
But the cause of Steve Waugh’s team was not helped by woeful catching. Butcher looked out leg before off Lee’s first ball and was dropped on 13 by Damien Martyn at gully off Andy Bichel and again on 43 by Adam Gilchrist off Jason Gillespie after lunch.
Nearing his century on 95, Butcher appeared to have another escape when television replays showed that he bottom-edged a sweep on to his pads off leg-spinner Stuart MacGill for Matthew Hayden to take a close-in catch.
But South African umpire Dave Orchard turned down the appeal and Butcher went on to raise three-figures in 271 minutes off 221 balls.
Hussain also took advantage of a dropped catch on six, when MacGill fumbled a two-handed caught-and-bowled chance before lunch, but he was ultimately caught off his gloves giving Gillespie his first wicket. It was Hussain’s third half-century of the series and 26th overall.
The home crowd gave the Australian skipper a mighty ovation when he came on to bowl and snared the wicket of Robert Key for three.
Steve, who could be playing in his 156th and last Test, trapped Key leg before, inside the final hour to leave England at 210 for four in the 76th over.
It was later confirmed that Bichel broke a finger, but would continue playing, the Australian team’ physiotherapist said.
Errol Alcott said X-rays had confirmed that Bichel had chipped the top of the index finger on his left hand while attempting to field a drive off Mark Butcher before tea.
Alcott said the Queensland paceman would wear a splint for the remainder of the match, adding: “It shouldn’t prevent him taking further part in the test match but it will be reviewed at the end of the Test.
Bichel remained on the field but did not bowl again after his finger was dislocated on impact. However, he is expected to resume bowling later in the match.
Stewart has chicken pox
Meanwhile, Alec Stewart has been diagnosed with chicken pox, a team spokesman said. He underwent tests before the start of the match that confirmed he had contracted the infection.
Stewart was still able to take his place in the match and is expected to keep playing.
Mark Butcher told a news conference: “We heard just before we got on the coach this morning that he thinks he’s got chicken pox and he actually has got chicken pox.”
The Surrey wicketkeeper-batsman is unlikely to stand down readily, especially with many English pundits predicting that the Sydney match, Stewart’s 126th, could be his last.