Sport Cricket Australia on the verge of Ashes whitewash
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Australia on the verge of Ashes whitewash

Mitchell Johnson
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Australia is firmly on track for an 5-0 Ashes whitewash, leading England by 311 runs at stumps on day two of the fifth Test against England in Sydney.

The Australian quicks destroyed England in the first two sessions of the day, bowling them out for 155 just ahead of tea, before the hosts went on to reach 4-140 in their second innings at the close of play.

The highest fourth-innings chase at the SCG is Australia’s 2-288 to defeat South Africa in 2006.

New year, new England, they said. Three debutants and three more guys who have played fewer than 15 Tests, just for good measure. Sydney was a fresh start. The Ashes were lost but their pride could be saved and a whitewash averted.

Two days into their cricket for 2014, though, nothing has changed. The first two days in Sydney have provided a snapshot of the series. On Friday, England removed Australia’s top half only to be thwarted by Steve Smith and Brad Haddin (again), before they lost a late wicket when survival was of the essence. On Saturday, they batted as they have done all summer long, leaving the completion of the whitewash, and their humiliation, a mere formality. The day’s final session saw the hosts slowly turn the screw. At one stage in the morning it had looked as if it could all end on Saturday, but this is to be a slower death.

For the first hour, England batted with the sort of skill and application you’d expect from a Barmy Army XI on New Year’s morning. Their start simply couldn’t have been worse, Alastair Cook shouldering arms to the second ball of the day, from Ryan Harris, without adding to his overnight seven. From that moment, the sight of the captain of a sinking ship unable to provide an answer, England were in disarray. It was a beauty from Harris that angled across the batsman before straightening, but a player of Cook’s record and quality should have had little trouble negotiating it.

The time was still 10.30 at this stage and the hour that followed was pure chaos. It should have been 3/8 when Ian Bell nicked his first ball to Watson at slip but was dropped. At the other end, Mitchell Johnson was all over nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson, who took a blow to the hand before also falling for seven. Clarke’s snaffle at slip was almost an act of mercy.

Kevin Pietersen (2) never looked like lasting long and soon Bell was gone, too. By drinks, England were 5-23, the three bastions of their batting gone and it was the first ever time all of their top five had failed to pass seven. Their lowest ever score, 45, on this very ground in 1886/87, was very much in play.

A pair of rookies steadied the ship, though. Gary Ballance took a ball from Johnson on the head but looked up for the fight, while Ben Stokes showed once more why he is tipped for such a bright future and what a diamond in the rough he is for the tourists. He drove strongly and played off his pads with an authority that belied his tender years. By lunch, the pair had hauled England to 5/61.

Ballance perished soon after, however. As has happened so regularly this series, a man roughed up by Johnson fell to Nathan Lyon as Ballance was caught behind for 18. Jonny Bairstow (18) never settled but shared 49 with Stokes before both fell to the brilliant Peter Siddle in quick succession. Stokes (47) was clean bowled offering no shot to one that nipped back just after Bairstow had hit it straight to George Bailey at silly mid-on and another Michael Clarke trap had fallen into place. Frankly, England’s batsmen are so obliging at the moment that Clarke could place a man at back stop and they’d find a way to get it to him.

England were 8/112 and their tail, shortened by Anderson’s promotion, had a little bit of wagging to do yet. Broad (30no) and Rankin (13) swiped a last-wicket partnership of 30 to take them past the follow-on after Scott Borthwick managed just a single on debut. Eventually, Johnson was reintroduced to make a mess of Rankin’s stumps and the fun was over. Australia’s lead stood at 171.

Once again, Australia’s bowlers were as brilliant as England’s batsmen were abject. They hunted in packs, Johnson finding his customary pace, Harris his length and Siddle nagging away. Supported brilliantly by their fielders, it was right that these three shared nine wickets equally. As a unit, they found the pitch’s length – one that had evaded England when bowling to Haddin and Smith yesterday.

After tea, Australia came out to bat and exuded the calm of men without a care in the world. Wickets fell, but Chris Rogers stood firm, batting like he was back at the MCG in compiling 73 by the close. David Warner (16) was trapped plumb in front by Anderson, who then forced a nibble from Shane Watson (9), who was brilliantly caught one-handed by Bairstow, driving in front of first slip. Michael Clarke (6) and Steve Smith (7) then both fell caught behind the wicket to Broad and Stokes respectively.

Rogers and George Bailey continued apace though, milking singles and tonking boundaries as England’s attack wilted in the sun. By the close, Australia were 4-140 and the lead stood at 311, surely already unassailable.

It was a day that moved the game on rapidly, with 13 wickets falling and nearly 300 runs scored. If England strike early tomorrow and collapse as they so often do, this could all be over by Sunday evening and those flights brought forward. Surely a sorry end is approaching for a sorry, sorry tour.

Will Macpherson writes for Back Page Lead.