Sport Cricket The day the wheels fell off England’s Ashes campaign
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The day the wheels fell off England’s Ashes campaign

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“One of the worst days I can remember from England in a long time.” So said England legend Geoffrey Boycott at the close of play on Sunday.

England have had many tough days on this tour, but this was the most arduous of the lot. At the close of play on Saturday, England were behind in the game and won’t have been happy with their lot, yet it was a better position than they had been in at the close of day two in either Brisbane or Adelaide.

At 4-180 and a deficit of 205 they had an opportunity, with some application and grit, to get somewhere near the host’s score and keep themselves in the series.

Some would argue that the England’s wagon never really got started, but this was the day the wheels flew off. Not for the first time, the tail, now longer than that of a lemur, were blown away, partly by hostile and disciplined bowling and partly by their own ineptitude. In the blink of an eye, they were all out for 251.

Then, on the same track on which they had lost 6-71, England’s bowlers, shorn of the injured Stuart Broad, were taken for an opening stand of 157 by David Warner and Chris Rogers. That afternoon session, as the openers made hay on a track that has evil-looking fault-lines but rarely reared its teeth, was surely England’s nadir. Australia finished the day on 3-235, with a lead of 369.

Australia’s bowlers, so superb on Saturday, made light work of England’s lower half. First Ian Bell, without question the key man, was trapped in front by an in-swinger from the indomitable Ryan Harris. At first glance, and with the new ball approaching, this appeared a speculative review from Clarke, but Hawkeye revealed that the WACA bounce had failed Bell and that he would have lost the top of his middle stump. After a series of out-swingers, this really was masterful stuff from Harris.

Mitchell Johnson, wicketless on Saturday, was always going to be a handful. One of his deliveries hit a crack and headed to first slip. A ball later, Ben Stokes showed his inexperience with an airy waft that found its way into Haddin’s welcoming hands. Matt Prior, who had a day that will haunt his nightmares, then bottom-edged a pull through to the keeper off Peter Siddle, who now has him 11 times in Tests.  With Prior went any realistic English hopes of achieving first innings parity.

With England on the ropes, a new nut was the last thing their embattled tail wanted to see, so it was a surprise to see Michael Clarke hand it to Shane Watson. Tim Bresnan cashed in, three times sending Watson to the cover fence. Normal service resumed next over, though, as Johnson trapped Broad in front with a spine-tingly quick and toe-crunchingly accurate yorker, that had just a hint of swing thrown in for good measure. Broad later went for precautionary scans and will play no further part in this match, but is yet to be ruled out of the tour.

The end was nigh and Graeme Swann freed his arms to haul England to a sorry 251. Bresnan was caught trying to leave and Jimmy Anderson fell in familiar fashion, looping it to short leg, but not before Swann had been struck on his right hand by a rasping riser from Siddle.

Anderson’s dismissal brought lunch and Australia emerged sporting the air of a team with the Ashes in its sights.

Warner initially looked nervous, three times failing to connect properly as Bresnan took the new ball. He was soon into his stride though, flaying all and sundry to every corner of the WACA. Swann frustrated the pugnacious left-hander with a defensive off-side line and created a simple stumping chance that Prior fluffed when Warner had just 13. Early in the innings tempers frayed and Umpire Erasmus was forced to take Warner to one side after a heated exchange with Prior.

Rogers went about his business quietly, the only scare coming when Alastair Cook dropped a tough chance diving late to his right on 27. Warner looked intent on destroying all before him and, shortly after Rogers fell caught at point, reached his fifth Test century with a brilliant cut off Swann. Warner’s celebration was typically wild, containing his now famous AFL-esque leap and he appeared to throw more than a glance towards Prior.

Eventually he was well caught by Stokes, once again going after England’s gallant offie. It was an innings of the highest quality that completes the full circle of Warner’s re-birth. Walkabout Bar in Birmingham seemed a whole world away as he held his blade aloft. As the day drew to a close, Stokes made the old ball talk, castling Clarke and troubling Steve Smith, who reached the close alongside Shane Watson. It looks a long way back for England.

From the dressing rooms:

Broad: “I got hit by a full ball from Mitch. Got ice on it and tried to bowl on it in the nets. The doc said I needed an x-ray that came back inconclusive, so I had an MRI and we’re waiting for those results to come back. I won’t be bowling tomorrow.”

Rogers: “If you’d have asked ‘what is the ultimate day to have?’ we’d have been in this position. After the tour of England, a lot of us were hurting, so to come back and win 3-0 would be amazing.”

Good day for: Arguably England’s greatest failure this summer has been their inability to keep Australia’s bowlers in the field. With plenty of time to kick back, relax and do the crossword (OK, maybe not..), the Aussie unit have combined brilliantly to brutalise England when the chance has come. This was one such day. The quicks didn’t fancy being in the sun for too long, so Mitch, Rhino and Sidds picked up a couple each, headed back to the cool shade of the changing room and let Davey do the rest…

Bad day for: Could have been most of England’s ragged bunch, but there is no better symbol of the side’s decline than Matt Prior, who has struggled with bat and gloves for most of this tour. Prior gave his wicket away with a bottom edge from an ugly leg-side swipe, missed two regulation stumpings and, to cap it off, barbecued his captain when he failed to dive for a Rogers edge. By the afternoon session, Prior looked as if he wanted those big WACA cracks to gobble him up.

Moment of the Day: A sandshoe crusher to rival any. 144kph, with a hint of swing, angling in at the laces, all on the back of a series of bumpers, only Broad’s toes stopped Johnson’s searing delivery crashing into all three. This was straight out of ‘fast bowling for beginners’. This was much more than Johnson rolling England’s tail once again. This was Johnson crippling England’s most threatening fast bowler. The crowd could almost hear Warner and Rogers thanking their demon quick as the remaining English bowlers wilted in the heat.

Stat Alert: Davey Warner loves playing at home: his last 11 test innings in Australia have seen him pass 50 eight times; all five of his tons have come on home soil, while his average in Australia is 61.04, compared to 25.2 overseas. The second innings of this series have also brought him 319 at 159.5. Man on fire.

What Monday holds: Whichever way you look at it, Australia has one hand on the Ashes. They will bat until they have an insurmountable lead, before picking off England’s beaten and broken batsmen one by one. England will hope to have learnt a bit about chasing a notional target in Adelaide and will need to show oodles of fight if they are to keep this series alive. The pitch is still fine but if those cracks open up a little more, the batsmen may want to throw on a few more protective items…