Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 17, 2006

McGrath dents England's Cook-led fightback

England 215 and 5 for 265 (Pietersen 37*, Flintoff 2*) need 292 runs to beat Australia 244 and 5 for 527 dec
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out - England

Alastair Cook celebrates his first Ashes century © Getty Images
Led by Alastair Cook's 116, England refused to relinquish the Ashes for one more day but a late burst from Glenn McGrath has put Australia on the brink. The resistance was led by a second-wicket stand of 170 between Cook and Ian Bell, but McGrath struck twice in the space of three balls leaving Kevin Pietersen and an out-of-form Andrew Flintoff to carry England's fading hopes.

The batting was a contrast to the mayhem witnessed on the third day but equally enthralling. It was another energy-sapping experience for the bowlers and this time the home side's turn to feel the heat. In the end it was the old stagers McGrath and Shane Warne who again put in the hard yards for Ricky Ponting.

That faith in the pair was justified as Warne never gave an inch and McGrath put a couple of extra nails in England's coffin. He slanted one across Cook to end his 290-ball innings and two deliveries later produced a pinpoint yorker to clean up the night-watchman Matthew Hoggard. Flintoff was beaten by his first two deliveries and Australia could hardly contain their excitement.

Although it will take a monumental effort on the final day to make Cook's fourth Test century something more than defiance it was a vital moment in his development. His early efforts in the series highlighted a problem outside off stump as he pushed at deliveries slanting across him, but that is par for the course for most left-handers. As with Danish Kaneria last summer, leg spin was also an issue but it takes time to develop skills to combat the best.

His judgement of what to play and leave was much sharper here, meaning the bowlers were forced to aim straighter, where Cook is more comfortable. Warne was combated by moving across his crease and using his pad when he was confident the ball was wide enough. He used his reach to good effect, slotting Warne through the covers when he floated up some tempting half volleys and also waited for deliveries to guide behind point. Andrew Symonds's offspin was also testing and Cook survived a tough chance to Matthew Hayden at slip when he had 84, but the century came off 257 balls. He'll never score at Pietersen's rate, but today that didn't matter a jot, and his standing ovation was universal as the Aussies in the crowd were thankful for the battle.

This series has also been a learning curve for Bell and his 87 showed that plenty of progress has been made since his rabbit-in-the-headlights display of 2005. England, who had fallen apart at Adelaide by pushing and prodding, were determined to not go down with such a whimper on this occasion. Bell signalled this as he greeted Warne by dancing down the track and lofting him for six in his first over.

Ian Bell drives during his 87 before falling to Shane Warne © Getty Images
He repeated the dose over long-on and went to an 83-ball fifty by flat-batting a wider ball through the covers. After surviving a low chance to Adam Gilchrist on 73 this was his chance to convert a solid fifty into a possibly match-defining century, but again fell short of doing justice to all the hard work. Warne was showing clear signs of tiredness and could well have been in line for a rest when Bell was held at short cover. The stand was a WACA record, but Australia sensed their chance to turn the screw.

Either side of tea the experience of McGrath and Warne dried up the scoring as 15 runs came from 75 balls and it was back to Adelaide mode with unsurprising results. Whereas Bell's initial thought had been to attack, Cook and Collingwood are both batsmen who look at defence first and Stuart Clark's probing line brought a thick edge from Collingwood.

It had taken plenty of toil for the initial breakthroughs, but now there was the threat of the floodgates opening. However, the differing mindset held by Pietersen stopped the scoreboard from seizing up and eased the pressure on Cook as his century approached. The Australians were kept interested as Pietersen refused to be restrained and there was plenty of chirp from the fielders and some hairy running.

Warne, who is now within four of reaching 700 wickets, had a couple of brief battles with Pietersen but that is a contest for tomorrow. One of the biggest cheers came from the England fans when Warne's analysis ticked over to 100. But it was the Australians who were left cheering at the end of the day and although their Ashes party has been put on hold for another night they can start hanging the bunting and getting the champagne on ice.

Short cuts

Shots of the day
Ian Bell's brave attack on Shane Warne included a four over mid-off and a straight six from the same over. It lifted the intensity of the first session and showed a welcome change in England's attitude.

Near miss of the day
Alastair Cook's dismissal in the shadows of stumps prevented him from lasting through the three sessions. Unfortunately for England it also exposed the nightwatchman Matthew Hoggard and let Australia finish on a high.

Optimist of the day
The Barmy Army member handing out flyers on the way to the game for "England's victory party tomorrow".

Longest England cheer of the day
It came from the Barmy Army when Shane Warne's figures reached one hundred, the third time in the series he has achieved the mark.

Record of the day
A new overall best for the WACA with the crowd total from days one to four beating the 84,142 from the first Test at the ground in 1970-71.

Quote of the day
"He's always a bit unlucky, isn't he." Alastair Cook on Shane Warne.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo