If there was ever a time to say “I’ll fight”, it was at the start of Day Three at Perth. England, starting the day 205 runs behind and six wickets in hand, had the biggest chance of the series to grab a small victory to force Australia to play a new hand.Ben Stokes and Ian Bell strode to the crease on another sweltering day, but the fire that some hoped had been ignited for the visitors on the second day quickly turned to ash.
First to go, having added just ten runs to the team score, was the absolutely vital wicket of Bell. Ryan Harris delivered a beautiful in-swinging ball smacking Bell on the pads, but it was given not out. A successful review by Australia showed the ball clattering into middle stump, and Bell departed for just 15.
Stokes followed soon later, edging an easy catch to Haddin from Johnson’s bowling and at 6/198, it was up to the faltering English tail to put on some runs. Yet the last four wickets fell at regular intervals, within three or four overs of each other – the first of which being Matt Prior, departing for eight as he under-edged an attempted pull off Siddle behind.
In the form of Tim Bresnan came a small amount of hope in the silver lining for the English side. The burly Yorkshireman smashed four very well played boundaries in his 21. All out for 251, England conceded a deficit of 134.
More to the point, standing in the field in temperatures hitting and passing 40 degrees is not the most ideal of conditions. After the events of day two, England were looking for an early breakthrough. Unfortunately, David Warner and Chris Rogers had other ideas straight after lunch.
Where Australia had managed to find venom and spite in a pitch with ominous cracks opening up, England managed not much more than a whimper in return.
Warner started like a house on fire. The maturity that the small but powerfully built left hander has shown since his outings in the Australian domestic one day competition earlier this year is now on show for everyone. England were hamstrung by the fact that their leading wicket-taker in the series, Stuart Broad, was hobbling off to hospital at this point – the ball which had him LBW to Johnson smashed into his foot, prompting fears that it was broken. He spent much of the evening session on crutches, watching on, as Warner hammered boundaries and a beautiful clean six, while Chris Rogers built up a slow and steady innings.
Frustration was evident: whatever England tried, Warner resisted, and then counter-attacked. Bringing up the first 100 run opening partnership of the series in 26 overs, the options for England were drying up.
Graeme Swann’s impact was dulled by Rogers and Warner as the latter attacked him not once but twice over the rope – towards the hill and straight down the ground.
One little lapse in concentration was all England needed, and they got it, albeit after a massive 157 run stand. Michael Carberry stood waiting at point, and Chris Rogers did not get enough on the cut shot off Bresnan. Out for 54, but the damage may have already been done.
Enter Shane Watson. Coming in with just 79 runs from the first two Tests (top score of 51), the pressure in the second innings was there from ball one. Having been hit on the pad early, the dogged all-rounder stuck it out and included four boundaries to be 29 not out at stumps. Michael Clarke started with a bang but ended up receiving a pearler from Stokes, clean bowled through the gate for 23. Warner departed soon after Rogers, having made yet another century in his return to majestic form.
At the start of Day 4, first innings centurion Steve Smith (5*) will join Watson at the crease as Australia lead by 369. The hosts have taken their chances in this series, whilst England have been sloppy. It seems inevitable that the Ashes will land back on Australian shores sometime in the next 48 hours.
(This is a modified review first seen at The Cricket Magazine)