Third Test, Perth December 16, 2006

A day of centuries

At times, the play resembled the middle overs of a one-day match; then, in the last hour, it swung violently towards Twenty20 territory.

On a day of centuries, the first and one of the more important was registered by the thermometer. The temperature was 38 celsius (100.4) at noon; 39.5 (103.1) at lunch, Hussey having just miscued a pull shot at Harmison over the head of slip for four. Had anyone requested a fried egg at the interval, the top of Harmison’s head would have come in handy.

The sun blazed. The ground seemed to shimmer. Breathing was like inhaling the backdraft of a jet engine. Spectators on the WACA’s grassed areas could be observed fanning themselves with their ‘Tonked’ placards – equivalent of the npower ‘4’ and ‘6’ boards. It is a wonder that keen-eyed sponsors did not equip the players with their own.

Australia, meanwhile, showed all the application that had eluded them, and then England, on the first two days of the match. Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke added 151 at five an over without attempting anything extravagant. England toiled – how they toiled! Yet this was staving off of the inevitable. At times, the play resembled the middle overs of a one-day match; then, in the last hour, it swung violently towards Twenty20 territory.

That was when Adam Gilchrist got going. Perhaps he is not the greatest wicketkeeper batsman in history - but surely no player in history has been better suited to the task of batting when his team is 400 ahead, it is 100 in the shade, and a 70m leg-side boundary beckons with a brisk wind to hit with. This was hitting of the highest quality and orthodoxy: there was nothing ugly, lusty or even particularly violent about it.

The day might have been different – slightly different – with a slightly different apportionment of luck in the first session. After disposing of Ponting, Harmison had a healthy lbw shout against Hayden (65), turned down by Aleem Dar: perhaps the chip of a bail too high, and probably a good decision. Panesar issued a piercing cry for a bat-pad catch against Hussey (15), turned down by Rudi Koertzen: another poor decision from an umpire who is simply not right often enough, having already done for Strauss once in the game and later to do him in again. When Hayden’s Kingaroy cut worked its way to deep fine leg for four, bowler Hoggard pressed a wrist band to his woebegone head like the character in a melodrama who had just been told of the bank’s foreclosure.

Panesar, in fact, was more patient than the Queenslander, eager to help down his lunch with a hundred, but who was foiled by a combination of loop, bounce and deviation. Hayden stripped his gloves off angrily, and one feared for his bat in the privacy of the dressing room; this was a wicket as deserved as any of Panesar’s in the first innings. Thereafter, however, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke ensured that it was all one-way traffic, with a skillfully-constructed stand, and Flintoff’s imagination narrowed. Sajid Mahmood looked as short of his captain’s confidence as Shaun Tait at the Oval in 2005, bowling only two of the first 73 overs of the innings. With his ratio of seventeen Test overs this summer to six exclusive Guardian columns, Mahmood’s first wicket will probably justify a book.

Ponting set England 557: another reckless declaration! He set them 648 at Brisbane – not quite the 735 that buccaneering Bill Lawry set West Indies at Sydney in February 1969, but close. Here, though, the closure was ideally timed, at the moment of greatest psychological ascendancy, and Andrew Strauss fetched his third consecutive umpiring blunder: he must have exhausted his quota of luck for the tour by bagging a taxi in Perth. The end was close, but this brought it still closer.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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