The Australians must have felt this was the day that the Ashes would officially be theirs. Certainly the lopsided nature of the first session indicated that England was shot, mentally and physically, but some old-fashioned grit from Ian Bell and Ben Stokes has taken the third Test into a fifth and final day.
Australia is inflicting a slow death on England and there can be only one result, surely. There is no rain forecast, and while the fissures in the WACA Ground pitch are startling to the eye, they have not proved to be dangerous enough for the tourists to lodge any sort of protest.
Australia needs five wickets for the Ashes, or four if the hobbled Stuart Broad cannot bat. England, at 5-251 and still 253 runs behind, must bat all day, and needs a miracle.
Michael Clarke’s team has been so much better in the big moments of the series thus far, and Monday was no exception. Moments like the the start of the English second innings when Ryan Harris sent a thunderclap around the vast ground by bowling Alastair Cook with a ball for the ages.
Harris is an endearing figure, usually understated and workmanlike, a tradie who happens to possess a post-grad degree in seam-up bowling and analysis of the splice.
The Australians had slaughtered England’s bowlers, taking 134 runs in 17 overs of the morning session, allowing Clarke the luxury of a declaration 500-plus runs ahead and a quick half an hour to unleash his bowlers on the English batsmen.
Now, Harris has some wraps on him. Mark Taylor this week compared him to Malcolm Marshall, an all-time great of the game, and Shane Warne has said he is “as good a bowler as there is going around in the world”.
Here he would show the world why the plaudits are coming. Harris’ first ball of the English innings started to shape into Cook, who covered the swing, but not the seam movement. It pitched in line and straightened, flicking the off bail at high speed. You could write a physics thesis about that delivery, the way it chose one direction in the air and another off the pitch. Certainly Cook was ignorant to its trajectory.
Harris is an endearing figure, usually understated and workmanlike, a tradie who happens to possess a post-grad degree in seam-up bowling and analysis of the splice. He took off like a soccer player who had just scored from a free kick, dodging teammates in a snaking run around the WACA. It was a body blow to England delivered by a man who is a remarkable success story; whose inability to recognise his own huge talent kept him from playing for Australia until he was beyond 30.
The day was also memorable for George Bailey’s world record-equalling 28 runs from the last over of the Australian second innings, bowled by the erstwhile Jimmy Anderson, including three big sixes down the ground. Bailey may not be a great Test cricketer but he continues to contribute; in fact the Australians have drawn bits and pieces from everyone this summer, and it has been pivotal.
Also notable was Shane Watson’s blistering century, the all-rounder revealing all his idiosyncratic ways both in reaching the ton and getting out. Watson flogged England’s bowlers for five sixes, sprinting from 50 to 100 in 28 balls, employing the style he has used in one-day cricket with success.
His (many) critics will argue that it was typical that he could make runs when there was little pressure, for Australia was merely batting for a declaration. But it is hard to knock him for finally converting a 50 to a century for just the fourth time, blotting out the very weakness that dogs him. His hitting was pure.
Then after Watson celebrated three figures he skied a catch to mid-wicket which Ian Bell spilled, and having made a pitiful attempt to get to the other end and give Bailey the strike, he was run out by Tim Bresnan’s direct hit, farcically so. As Henry Blofeld might have said: “My dear, old thing!”