Sunday had looked like a new low for this summer’s bedraggled English tourists. For one more session, though, Australia heightened that misery with brutish batting and bloodthirsty bowling which, combined with ragged English fielding and a popgun attack, produced the most one-sided session of a one-sided series. On the back of a morning session like that, it seemed a minor miracle that the game will continue into a fifth day.
Shane Watson and George Bailey set about England’s attack with the sort of dismantling that they had given India’s bowlers in that absurd ODI series two months ago. Such was their dominance, the bowler and where he put the ball became almost irrelevant. Off-side, leg-side or straight, it was going to the ropes.
In all, the hosts put on 134 runs for the loss of three wickets (all three searching for the fence) in 17 extraordinary overs. Watson was the protagonist, turning his overnight 29 into 103 in the space of 42 balls, but Bailey did his best to steal the show, flaying one James Anderson over for 28 record-breaking runs.
In response, England captain Alastair Cook fell for his first ever golden duck and, not long after tea, the tourists found themselves teetering on the edge of another four day capitulation at 4/121, before Ian Bell and Ben Stokes shared a spirited, not to mention flamboyant, 99. They closed on 5/251 with Everest to climb to save the game, and the Ashes, on a pitch with enough craters, gorges and fault lines to fill the syllabus of a high school geography class.
Just as it had been for David Warner 24 hours earlier, Watson walked to the crease in his dream situation. He was particularly brutal on Swann, but no Engishman was spared as he smashed seven boundaries and five maximums. With the target already out of sight, Watson’s was an exercise in pummelling the poor tourists and crushing the last embers of belief that they could take something from the game. The right-hander was spared when Tim Bresnan, moving backwards, took a fine catch only to tumble over the ropes to give Watson six more.
The tourists looked beaten in the field and Watson’s eventual dismissal was a comedy of errors – Bell dropped a simple, if swirling, skyer, only for Bresnan to throw down the stumps, leaving the confused batsman out of his ground.
Bailey’s one-sided battle with Anderson accelerated the declaration, with Michael Clarke setting England their lowest target yet – just 503 – as he looked to get stuck into them before lunch. Get stuck in they did as Cook, playing his 100th Test, was castled by a rip-snorter from Harris that sent the WACA into raptures. Michael Carberry and Joe Root survived a tricky period before lunch to end surely as miserable a session as England have ever endured.
The pair steadied the ship after lunch, adding 62 for the second wicket before Carberry, who had once again looked set for a big score, was trapped in front by a Watson swinger. Within 10 overs, Root, who had ground to a halt after a promising start, was gone too, calling for an inexplicable review after chasing a wide one from Johnson that Brad Haddin snaffled gloriously. The pressure had told, but England made it to tea 3-95 after a more sedate session.
Kevin Pietersen had looked assured since coming to the crease, off driving his first delivery to the fence and, having dropped anchor in the first innings, looked to play his shots. He looked in fine touch, taking on Nathan Lyon and the quicks alike, before one smite too many into the wind saw him hole out for 45. Ryan Harris, who you would want to bowl and field for your life, took a fine catch – Pietersen’s stroke was in freefall longer than the average bungee jump.
Bell and Stokes set about restoring pride, and what a job they did, becoming the first English pair to get the tempo right all match. Stokes was outstanding, especially pulling through mid-wicket and driving down the ground and, now that his batting has matched his courageous bowling, should be a fixture in this England side for some time. Bell was his usual self – all class, sending Harris twice to the midwicket fence and clearing the third man boundary in a single over. Eventually he fell for 60, the faintest of edges going through to Haddin. Stokes went to a maiden 50 and continued to swing away, all classic cricket strokes and all exquisitely timed. The feisty southpaw is a fine prospect and guided his side to 5/251 at the close.
From the dressing rooms:
Bell: “Obviously we’re hanging in there. We need the two guys out there now to bat until lunch at least. With the pitch the way it is I think you’re better trying to put a bit of pressure on the bowlers. Ben Stokes is in there showing some fight. He has a fantastic attitude. He’s got a massive future ahead of him.”
Good day for: Shane Watson’s detractors aren’t going anywhere. They will tell you that his fourth Test ton didn’t come in the toughest of circumstances or that he’s not in it for the Baggy Green cause. They are wrong, though. Watson’s brutal assault on England’s fatigued foursome was spectacular and, while it didn’t change the course of the match, certainly acted as a catalyst. Watson’s treatment of Swann was particularly disdainful – taking 37 runs from the 13 deliveries he received. Few players in world cricket are capable of biffing high quality spin to all corners in the manner that Watto can when in T20 mode. Watson’s work provided his skipper with the platform to declare early. The big man also showed what a key role he plays in his side’s bowling attack too, nipping out a well set Carberry with a peachy swinger.
Bad day for: Poor old Jimmy Anderson. The Lancastrian hasn’t often looked the record-breaking, 336 wicket-taking Jimmy of old this series and on Monday morning the only record he broke was a decidedly unwelcome one as Bailey battered the hapless swinger into submission. A delicate cut, wide of slip – FOUR; a smite over mid off – SIX; a swipe to leg – TWO; splits the leg-side fielders – FOUR; another thwack over mid-off – SIX; and a wallop over mid-on – SIX. And that was that. Bailey, Australia’s least secure batsman, had taken the leader of England’s attack for 28 in six deliveries and with it, Jimmy had joined Robin Peterson as the bowler to have served up the most expensive over in Test history. Peterson’s assailant? One B.C.Lara.
Champagne Moment: Don’t listen to the Channel Nine boys – no delivery is unplayable. Harris’ dastardly nut to Cook wasn’t far off though. Steaming in like a man possessed, Harris found a divine delivery that shaped in before holding its line and taking Cook’s off bail. The bowler wheeled away in delight and Cook dragged himself from the crease, allowed not even a single delivery’s respite by the rampant Australians. There was no shame for England’s captain, but one doubts he will have felt lower on a cricket field.
Stat Alert: The Ashes power shift is neatly demonstrated by the two sides’ ton tallies. Watson’s brutal assault meant Australia have hit the last nine Ashes centuries. The roll call has read Watson, Smith, Warner, Clarke, Clarke, Haddin, Smith, Warner, Watson since Ian Bell’s 113 at Chester-le-street in August. In stark contrast, 14 of the previous 17 Ashes tons (Bell’s was the last) went to Englishmen.
What Tuesday holds: Surely Tuesday is the day that the urn is returned?