Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day December 18, 2010

Series in the balance after Australia's surge


In the build-up to this Test match, England referred back so often to Headingley and Johannesburg, the scenes of their capitulations in their last two marquee series against Australia and South Africa, that complacency could not have been further from their thoughts. But somehow they've let their ascendancy slip again. With five wickets tumbling on a raucous third evening at the WACA, they face the prospect of going to Melbourne on Boxing Day with the series locked at 1-1, and the destiny of the Ashes in the balance all over again.

On Friday, a display of individual brilliance from Mitchell Johnson hoisted Australia back into the contest, but Saturday's batting performance owed more to demoralisation than any particular brilliance on the part of the bowlers. This time, Johnson needed no prodigious swing to find the edge of Andrew Strauss's bat, while the last-ball dismissal of Paul Collingwood, whose score of 11 exactly matches his average in his last nine innings, summed up a match that is no longer in England's hands.

"It's just one of those things," said Chris Tremlett, who was England's outstanding performer on the day with 5 for 87. "We bowled pretty well today at the end of the day, we fought back after a tough morning session and we were pretty pleased to bowl them out for what we did [309]. But credit to Australia, they bowled pretty well this evening. For the last few months, England have played pretty tough cricket, so it's just one of those things."

However, the dynamic of the series has been transformed with astonishing speed. On Friday morning, as England's openers moved effortlessly along to 78 for 0, the joke doing the rounds - with a serious undertone - was whether Australia's bowlers could manage as many as 20 wickets in the series, never mind the match. Their tally at that stage stood at 17 after two completed Tests, at a cost of 1475 runs. Since the dismissal of England's series mainstay, Alastair Cook, however, they've racked up 15 for 190.

"Teams are always going to bat well [sometimes]," said Peter Siddle. "You can't just think that they're going to be poor or be great all the time. To their credit they batted really well in those first few matches and we couldn't break it, but it was just a matter of being patient and bowling as a group - that's what's changed here. All four quicks have bowled with patience and consistency and in great partnerships together ... it's put the pressure right on them."

England's preparation and attitude throughout their Ashes campaign has been faultless, and Australia will remember full well what happened in England 18 months ago, when an innings victory at Headingley left England needing to bounce straight back in the final Test at The Oval to snatch the Ashes. They did just that, with Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss refusing to panic even while the press and public went into a tizzy on their behalf. The onus now will be to find the same level heads again.

"It's pretty obvious the guys are disappointed to get out because they've put in some pretty impressive performances in the other games," said Tremlett. "But we're not worried about momentum. They are going to take some momentum with a positive performance on their front, but we're going to concentrate on our game. We're still full of confidence, we're still 1-0 up in the series and there's always tomorrow and we still believe we can do it."

The second-innings collapse, when it came, was dramatic and unpreventable, with a succession of previously unruffled batsmen falling to strokes that they would not have played in other circumstances - particularly Kevin Pietersen, whose open-faced steer into the slip cordon almost caused him to thwack his bat on the plastic seating as he returned to the dressing-room.

Tremlett, however, insisted that a degree of decorum had been retained in spite of England's impending defeat. "It's about not panicking when those situations happen," he said. "Throughout the series the dressing room has been a pretty calm environment, even though we lost a few wickets we still remained pretty calm. It's a long shot but we still believe we can put a partnership together and still win this game."

Siddle, however, was already preparing for Australia's victory celebrations, with the prospect of a real tussle going into the festive season finale. "It does change things," he said. "There was obviously a lot of pressure on us in this match to get a result. Mike Hussey was outstanding, Shane Watson held it together. It's just a good team effort so far. There's still a lot of work to be done but it does make a big change for us.

"We just knew we had to change a little bit and work a little bit harder in the matches," he said. "We just knew that if we played our best cricket that would put them under a lot of pressure. That's what we've shown in this Test match, that we can play some good cricket.

We've shown everyone out here, batting and bowling, that we can fight and we can work hard. If we could be patient and work them over, instead of them playing on top of us, we knew we could get results."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sagir on December 19, 2010, 9:45 GMT

    To Mr Johntycodes - there is nothing wrong in preparing pitches to suit your strengths.. and i would like to see more pacy wickets the world over, there are far too many batting paradises coming up in test cricket lately.. however, the pitches in india are like that because of the quality of the soil (as confirmed by experts from NZ) rather than the lack of fast bowlers. and because the pitches are unhelpful, bowlers turn towards spin and swing rather than pace and seam..

  • Giles on December 19, 2010, 0:13 GMT

    Collingwood is a passenger on the team, time for som efresh blood, fresh enthusiam and fresh talent, I'n sure Colly will be back, but needs to step aside for now.

  • brenta on December 19, 2010, 0:10 GMT

    Because our batting is not our strength any more we should doctor the pitches to our advantage like every other country. Make every pitch in australia dynamite for fast bowlers just like india prepare spinning wickets because they never have any good fast bowlers.

  • Chris on December 18, 2010, 23:24 GMT

    I we can win in Perth, then we can win the series if we are smart with our batting line up. Hussey i an opener. Get him up there. He and Watto opening would prob put on 200 or more. A strong opening stand would totally change the game for Australia. I read somewhere that Ponting has come to the crease with the score under 100 for the last zillion innings or so. No wonder his batting has declined - he's had to become an opener. The Poms on the other hand... well they've still got Bell, Prior and swann, plus Anderson owes them a few runs after not protecting Collingwood (turning down a single of the second last ball). Bell has been waiting for a decent chance to make a century. Now's his chance.

  • Don on December 18, 2010, 18:31 GMT

    Damn. Looks certain to be one all. What a pity. England will be held responsible for the impending Aussie resurgence. Ponting and company will be back to their arrogant best in 2011.

  • Dummy4 on December 18, 2010, 17:15 GMT

    Well guys it seems that every one is taken to a big surprise here. From no where OZies have come back strongly. It was a gamble picking Johnsan especially by ponting. Considering the fact that Mitchell has performed at PERTH remarkably well. This gamble click and boy Ausies are really pumped up. Englishmen played pathetic, had no answers of straight and out swingers from Mitchell. I was so disappointed by short selection of ENGLAND. I have watched Gooch`s interview and he says that at Perth batsmen need to show temperament. You got to leave the balls alone outside the off stump and play with straight and cross bat. He gave examples of Hussy and watson, how precise they were with short selection. At start Watson did not touch any outside line deliveries so did not the hussy. England batting was absolutely non professional. They took as a granted from previous win i guess. Well this has happened to previous Ashes in England. England winning game then on loosing side, then on a go

  • Sagir on December 18, 2010, 15:44 GMT

    well written Mr Miller.. i have felt (and even told my friends) that this series is for England to lose. they have arrived in Australia with a better team and were marginal favourites to win the series. The win in Adelaide confirmed that but i have a sneaky feeling that after this performace at the WACA, they might revert to their old self again. Let's hope for an exciting series and may the better team win..

  • aaditya on December 18, 2010, 15:32 GMT

    it was always on the cards..the last 2 ashes series hav shown us how the momentum shift takes place between the 2 sides thru the series!!last ashes,eng managed to scrape thru 1st game,won 2nd game convincingly and then lost to level 1-1..then finally managed to win decider,and the series...i think similar thing might take place here as well...this game is as good as over for england and dont expect any fightback from here on..but 4th test as mcg will again be england's coz i think the movement will help them and swann will also be a key player!!the next 2 games may go in favour of eng,but they should not get complacent!!

  • Michael on December 18, 2010, 14:36 GMT

    I can't help thinking that something happened between 77-0 and 78-1, like a time warp. Really Strauss and Cook were on easy street, no problem. The rest is a strange and troubling episode. Okay so Johnson bowled a straight on then a few more, but I can't help thinking there is more to this.

  • Nick on December 18, 2010, 14:30 GMT

    Andrew seem to be eating some humble pie. If I remember just 2 days ago, you labeled Mitchell Johnson "Australia's Harmison" and stated "Australia should get rid of him" were asked if Australia could fight back and your response was "no chance"...well time to open up the other eye my friend and show some respect to the Aussie team.

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