Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day January 5, 2011

Hosts slide towards series defeat

There are still two days left in this match, but in reality Australia are simply waiting to become the first team since 1986-87 to be beaten by England at home

At 3.01pm, with the Test only just past the halfway point, Steve Bernard, Australia's long-standing team manager, basically conceded the series for his team in a tweet from the dressing-room. A couple of minutes later Michael Clarke did the same by handing the ball to Michael Hussey for an over before tea.

Clarke, the new captain, has six bowlers who can play as specialists but at that point only five wickets had fallen and Alastair Cook and Ian Bell had taken England to a lead of 94. It already felt like much more as a new year started with the same result for an out-classed Australia. They are faced with winning the game to draw the series at 2-2 but, as Bernard indicated, that cannot really happen now.

As Cook continued his cross-country conquering of Australia, Bernard tweeted what most were thinking. "The Cook Bell partnership has ensured that it would be difficult for England to lose. They have both looked well in control."

Before online social media became fashionable, and the country's cricket team had undergone a de-valued renovation, Australian cricketers believed they could win from any position. Those were the days, when Steve Waugh was cast as the batsman in the middle, not as the ground's newest bronze statue.

Clarke tried to remain hopeful but looked fanciful instead. "If we can get a 180 to 200-run lead, on the last day of the SCG Test, I'm confident we can still win the game."

In reality the current players are waiting to become the first team since 1986-87 to be beaten by England at home. The past month has given Australian supporters time to adjust their expectations, but this was the day hope finally ran out. They started with a lead of 113 and England three-down, but when they walked off for bad light their opponents had an advantage of 208.

Depending on how well Australia bat in the second innings, the series will end on Thursday or Friday. There will be no celebrating by the bruised hosts, just Barmy Army songs of triumph refusing to leave their ears. The tourists in the stands, with most cheeks as pink as their McGrath Foundation charity shirts, have had plenty to sing about, while even some of the locals' gifts have been taken away.

In this innings Michael Beer, a bright spot in the flagging attack, twice thought he had a maiden wicket through Cook before losing it on Billy Bowden's self-imposed reviews. When he finally broke through, after Paul Collingwood heaved to mid-on, Beer turned and spoke to Bowden just to make sure the dismissal was legitimate. Third time lucky for Beer, but his energy could not change the direction of his new team.

Shane Watson emerged after the pre-tea concession to take two wickets but only one was given. The success was Cook, who sliced to Michael Hussey in the gully on 189, and the failure was Bell. Given out by Aleem Dar, Bell eventually signalled for a review and was judged not out by Hot Spot and the third umpire. Snicko, which takes a couple of minutes to load and isn't employed in the challenges, showed Dar's initial belief was correct.

Bell was on 67 and went on to 115, with the Sydney fans booing and one man in the Members' Stand signalling the review sign as he departed. The technological error was more annoying for the Australians than match changing.

The team is in this position because of three crucial points. Australia's batsmen have been ill-disciplined, the bowlers are merely honest as a group, and England are more accomplished in every discipline except the evenly matched wicketkeepers. There is so much work to do that it is hard to know where to start.

Australia will begin the fourth day waiting for three wickets or an England declaration. The pitch is in good shape, playing more like a day-three Gabba surface than a Sydney turner, but during the series the wicket has often changed faces when England's attack has been working.

Mitchell Johnson had an off day and when he returned shortly before the end it was the visiting supporters who cheered his arrival. He sparked to remove Bell and collected 3 for 97, but needed to fire in the first half of the day. Peter Siddle operated without menace and Ben Hilfenhaus maintained his bowling-machine line.

Beer showed with 1 for 85 off 29 overs that he is the best local spinner of the series, which isn't saying much, but it offers some encouragement. Once again Steven Smith is caught between disciplines, not sure if he's a batter, a bowler or an allrounder. After failing at No.7, his legspin wasn't called upon until the 102nd over.

Smith dropped a stinging caught-and-bowled from Bell on 84 and didn't receive any more chances. Opposition sides used to be the ones to find these sorts of lapses costly against Australia; it has been the hosts' turn over the past six weeks to learn about being wasteful. The Ashes went to England at the MCG last week and it won't be long before they are tweeting positively about their drought-breaking series win.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo