Sport

Ashes Update – Resurgent Australia Level Series

Following lacklustre and uncharacteristically flat performances in the previous two tests the Aussies arrived in Perth for the third under immense pressure. The knives were very much out for captain Ricky Ponting and his team with a couple of players not expected to see international cricket again should they turn in another losing performance. However, in a performance displaying the 0nerve and bowling dominance that harked back to the days of McGrath and Lee in their prime, Australia’s fast bowlers  helped to blast their team back into the reckoning for Ashes glory.

Being played at the WACA in Perth where a great deal is always made of the often substantial amounts of extra pace and bounce offered by the pitch, Australia’s selectors rung the changes from Adelaide opting to go with four fast bowlers (Hilfenhaus, Harris, Johnson and Siddle) and bringing in leg spinning all rounder Steve Smith at the expense of Marcus North. (though as it would turned out Smith’s bowling services were never required). England only had to make one forced change bringing in 6 foot 7 inch Chris Tremlett for the injured Stuart Broad.

England Captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and (in a rare occurrence) chose to bowl, a decision more than justified up by the efforts of England’s attack. In the opening session the seamers claimed Australia’s top 4 and were looking as dominant as they had done in the previous matches, with Ricky Ponting failing to make an impact once again. And incidentally to remove Ponting Paul Collingwood took what is already being hailed as the greatest Ashes catch ever, diving upwards and backwards to snaffle the ball one handed in a manner we’ve only come to expect from one of cricket’s greatest fielders. After lunch though resistance to what seemed like yet another England onslaught came in the form of Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin, who are the only two batsmen to have put up any sort of serious opposition this series. Hussey made 61 and Haddin 53, and then Mitchell Johnson crunched some huge shots round the ground to help Australia get up to 268 all out. A total way above what England would have wanted having had the Aussies at 65 for 4 at lunch. But finishing the day on 29 for 0 England finished the day fairly confident of going on to make another imposing total.

From Day 2 onwards however, it was nothing but one-way Aussie traffic. Despite a good first hour of batting from Cook and Strauss Australia then suddenly got right back into the match. Beginning with Mitchell Johnson who, in a critic silencing and crowd-rousing spell, took 4 wickets in 4 overs. Starting with Alastair Cook, he then removed each of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood LBW with some deadly 90 mph in swing. England limped to 187 with only Strauss’ 52 and Ian Bell’s 53 being scores of note.

In their second innings Australia made sure of setting England a difficult fourth innings target by reaching 309 in far more comfortable fashion than their first innings. Hussey again led the way with a splendid 116, full of crunching pull shots and glorious cover drives. Shane Watson also contributed, just missed out on a hundred with 95. So England were set a target of 391 with over two days of play remaining. Exactly 2 years ago at the WACA South Africa chased down 414 in less time, so the visitors on this occasion should have been feeling fairly confident of eking out a hard fought but ultimately successful run chase. But Australia had other plans. And as the chase began in the final hours of Day 3 the Aussie seamers continued with the work they had began in the 1st innings and broke through a brittle English batting line up at regular intervals. Finishing the day on 81 for 5, an England victory suddenly looked further away than snowy weather. And sure enough, in just under half an hours play on the next morning, the Aussies wrapped up an emphatic victory to level the series at 1-1 with two matches left to play. The spoils went to Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson who finished with match figures of 9 for 106 and 9 for 82 respectively.

Going into the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, the pre-Perth roles have now been reversed with Australia now confident and settled while England face selection issues. It seems all but certain that Steven Finn will sit out at Melbourne. Despite being the leading wicket taker in the series from either side with 14 wickets, 21 year old Finn looks in need of a rest with apparent low stamina and cramps throughout the match. Chris Tremlett will probably keep his place after impressive spells in both innings so Tim Bresnan seems the likely candidate to step in and would also offer more batting substance to the lower order. The other outstanding issue is that of Paul Collingwood who is the only batsmen not to cash in during the series, and while bringing in reserve batsman Eoin Morgan at Collingwood’s expense seems unlikely it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ian Bell moved up the order to 5 and Collingwood moved down to 6. Bell has looked by far the classiest batsman out of either team during the first 3 matches and has reached fifty in all but one innings. Following the conclusion of the match the Aussies named an unchanged squad for the Melbourne Test which mean they are fairly confident that skipper Ricky Ponting will recover in time from his broken finger. Which he sustained while attempting to take a catch off the edge of Jonathan Trott, parrying the ball up into the air where Brad Haddin quickly stepped in to seize it.

England can take solace in the fact that it has so far only been Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin who have so far been their tormentors while more often that not they have bulldozed the rest of the batting order. For Melbourne the Aussies will probably drop one of their quicks which will mean the debut of yet another spinner in the shape of Michael Beer. So all things considered the teams go into the penultimate Ashes Test looking evenly-matched. Only one thing is certain: this year’s Christmas Test is going to be a cracker.


James McAndrew

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