Close: third Test, day two, Perth
Match score: Australia 119-3 (Watson 61, Finn 2-48) and 268 (Hussey 61, Haddin 53, Johnson 62; Anderson 3-61, Tremlett 3-63) lead England 187 (Bell 53, Strauss 52, Johnson 6-38) by 200 runs
Session score: Australia 119-3 Australia win
Session in six words: Australia lose wickets but extend lead
This match is swinging like a rocking chair. The cricket has been absorbing if not top class – the defensive frailties of both sides as compelling as their attacking qualities.
One minute Steve Finn is bowling himself out of the side, 14 runs off his first over, with things looking bleak for England. The next, Phil Hughes and Ricky Ponting have their feet up again and Finn is the toast of Telford and every other English town.
Michael Clarke counters, only for Chris Tremlett to force a fatal inside-edge. Hughes, Ponting and Clarke – the same failures again for Australia. They have dilemmas with all three. Hughes has potential, but has poor defensive technique and has been picked when not in form. Do they persist? Ponting is 36 and has scores of 10, 51*, 0, 9, 12, 1 in this series. Does a tough decision need to be made? Clarke is clearly discomforted by a bad back. Should he be rested?
For a moment questions dominate. But then its Australia again, sweeping forward against England’s three-man defence – Finn caught hopelessly out of position, Watson the inspirational driving force in midfield.
Enough with the football, this could only be cricket, and only be Test cricket – a lesson to groundsmen and administrators everywhere of what happens when you produce a wicket that is as encouraging to bowlers as it is to batsmen. You can score quickly when the bowlers stray at the Waca – ask Finn, who conceded 48 runs in nine overs but also benefited from the positive side of bounce that punishes batsmen who play loosely.
Australia’s lead is 200, another 150 tomorrow and they will feel they have this won. England may clutch at South Africa successfully chasing 414 here in 2008, but that was a higher-scoring game and this is a different pitch. Johnson is the man – if he swings it England will struggle to chase 250, if he doesn’t they will feel they could chase anything. Which side has the player with a match-winning performance in them tomorrow?
Tea: third Test, day two, Perth
Match score: England 187 (Bell 53, Strauss 52, Johnson 6-38), Australia 268 (Hussey 61, Haddin 53, Johnson 62; Anderson 3-61, Tremlett 3-63)
Session score: England 69 for 5 Australia win
Session in six words: Australia take a grip on Test
“Ozzie, Ozzie Ozzie?”. The first cry came half midway through the morning session, like a hibernating animal emerging in spring. By tea today it was mating-season in mid-summer, the Barmy Army a footnote. Australia day has come six weeks early.
Australia were not as irresistible as they had been in the hour before lunch, bowling too short, although it paid dividends when a seagull flew in front of Matthew Prior as he fended Peter Siddle onto his stumps. Of course it was Mitchell Johnson who finished things off. England all out for 187, 81 behind on a decent batting pitch, Johnson 6 for 38, scarcely credible at the start of play.
England had done an Australia – 78 for 0, 109 all out. Johnson is an opening bowler who doesn’t like opening the bowling. As such, he bowls first change, and England were able to get to 78 before he got going. England’s star turn again was Ian Bell, a No.3 batting at No.6, and increasingly with the tail. As long as Bell was at the wicket, England had a chance of creeping towards parity. One looseish drive at Harris when he had 53 and it was virtually all over, a confident Johnson against Tremlett and Anderson suddenly not much of a contest.
The time has come for England to change their order. Bell has passed 50 every time he has batted in this series, Paul Collingwood has not reached it once. Collingwood has the versatility to bat at No.6 – his catching is keeping him in the side at the moment – but Bell should have aspirations of moving higher than No.5.
Given Kevin Pietersen’s failure earlier today, Bell’s best position may be at No.4, not as reactionary as it sounds. Pietersen moved up to No.4 in the last Ashes because he was in top form and England’s best player, his preference was No.5. Neither are indisputably the case at present and Pietersen’s vulnerability early in his innings meaning a move down a place lessens the likelihood of coming up against the new ball.
A decent final session and Australia have an excellent chance of squaring this series. England will have concerns over Steven Finn’s form and fitness – they need all their bowlers to be at their best if they are to claw this game back.
Lunch: third Test, day two, Perth
Match score: England 119-5, Australia 268 (Hussey 61, Haddin 53, Johnson 62; Anderson 3-61, Tremlett 3-63)
Session score: England 90-5 Australia win
Session in six words: What has happened to Mitchell Johnson?
Wake up England – someone has finally resuscitated this series. His name is Mitchell Johnson, a man written out of things more often than Phil Mitchell.
Bowling at 90mph and then some, when Johnson curves the ball back into the right-handers, chaos normally ensues. Here was no different, England sawn of at the knees by high-class in-swing bowling. Cook edged to Hussey in the slips, Trott, Pietersen and Collingwood went lbw. Comfortable at 78 for 0 England? Try some 98 for 5 for size.
There is no more thrilling sight in cricket than a genuinely fast bowler with his confidence up. Maybe it was his innings yesterday, maybe it was the balls that started to curve before the close last night, maybe it was even those hours in the nets in Adelaide. Maybe someone fed Popeye some spinach. Whatever has made Johnson’s bowling arm and head click together like a cricketing catapult throwing firebombs, bottle it, because Australia are going to need buckets of the stuff.
Before Johnson was thrown the ball we could have been in Adelaide. When he finished his spell nine breathless overs later we were in the blazing ruins of first day Brisbane. He likes bowling at his adopted home ground, he has 25 wickets at 19 in four previous Tests here. If England can take hope from anything, it is that Australia still lost when he took 11 wickets here against South Africa in 2008. Then he bowled a spell of 5 for 1, here it was 4 for 7. Suddenly England’s slackness yesterday evening took on new meaning, with 268 looking as far off as 2,268. If they are to recover Bell and Prior must be decisive in defence and attack, as the tail looks longer without Broad.
Two moments sum up the change in fortune. In his second over of the morning the earnest Ryan Harris found Strauss’s edge, only for the ball to fly straight between Watson and Haddin. The crowd groaned. Here we go again. A little later they were groaning for a different reason when Johnson almost killed Collingwood with a bouncer, then swung one back so quickly that Collingwood was still taking guard. The appeal refused, Ponting gambled on the moment and won. It was hard to begrudge him that.