Watson bemoans collective failure
Shane Watson says all of the Australian bowlers should be blamed for the side's lack of penetration on the fourth day as England stormed back into the opening Test. The locals started with a 202-run lead but by stumps were 88 behind after the visiting top three took advantage of an inconsistent attack to post 1 for 309.
Mitchell Johnson struggled with his line and Ben Hilfenhaus was unthreatening for long periods, while Peter Siddle could not build on his impressive six-wicket return in the first innings. "I don't think you can single out Mitchell today," Watson said. "All of us, the bowlers, didn't perform particularly well, me included."
Andrew Strauss (110) and Alastair Cook (132 not out) were regularly given balls to cut, pull and drive, and the wayward approach also allowed them constant singles. Jonathan Trott joined the fun after Strauss was out stumped to Marcus North, the only wicket to fall on an extremely difficult day for the hosts.
"It came down to sustaining pressure and unfortunately we weren't able to do that," Watson said. "We did it for little periods but weren't able to execute for long enough. The English guys batted well, particularly Strauss and Cook, but all of us as a bowling group weren't able to consistently execute to build the pressure that was needed."
The problem has been a feature of Australia's attack since the last Ashes series and is highlighted on flat pitches when the bowlers can't make things happen. "That's something we are continuing to work on as a group," Watson said. "We know how important it is on flat wickets and there's no doubt that there's going to be a lot of flat wickets throughout this whole summer. We have to continue to improve, to make sure we get better at it."
This surface was supportive to the fast men for the first two days but has flattened out. There are a few cracks to aim for but England's position is so strong that they may be in a position to push for victory over the second half of the final day. That depends on lifting their scoring rate in the morning, something Watson hopes they try to achieve.
"It would be nice if they did," he said. "It might give us a few more opportunities to be able to take some wickets."
Although England were reluctant to think too far ahead in the game, Australia's former captain Ian Chappell said that a positive approach in the final stages of the game could have a major bearing on the momentum of the series, much as was the case when England snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat at Cardiff in 2009.
"A draw has got to be the favourite, but England should at some point just start to push a little bit, and try to frighten Australia," Chappell told ESPNcricinfo. "I don't for a moment think they will bowl them out - if they do you'll be talking about this one in the same terms as Headingley 1981, or India's victory over Australia in Calcutta. But even if England can push Australia into a bit of a corner and get five of them out and put the frighteners on them, then they would go to Adelaide with a huge psychological boost."
Despite the swift momentum shift, Watson said Australia were still in the game. "But we do have to turn it around very quickly," he said. "We still need to get nine wickets and that seems a long way away at the moment. But there's definitely still quite a bit of hope for us."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo