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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nathan on January 6, 2011, 22:58 GMT

    @landl47 - not that it matters, but regarding your comment that Australia have 'had no first innings scores over 300', I'm pretty sure that Australia's first innings score of 481 in the first test was over 300 ...

  • Martin on January 6, 2011, 14:03 GMT

    @crikey; "THE ONLY REASON ENGLAND IS WINNING IS BECAUSE THEY HAVE HAD THE BEST OF THE WEATHER AND THE PITCH CONDITIONS..........ALL AUS NEEDS IS EVEN CONDITIONS FROM THE START". As long as I live I do believe I've never read such UTTER TWADDLE. Get real @crickey. England are a good side - with much potential to improve. Australia by contrast are poor. Read the scoreboard.

  • Anver on January 6, 2011, 7:32 GMT

    Eng's complete domination of this Ashes continues with another innings win on the card........Aussies need a big Post Mortem after this series !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bill on January 6, 2011, 5:54 GMT

    I think it should be the last test for a few. Probably Siddle and Hilfenhaus should be the first to go. Siddle played the whole seriers yet only had 2 great bowling innings. I think he finished with14 wickets and 6 came on day 1 and another 6 came in the boxing day test. Also Beer was a waste of time. We had Hauritz and O'Keefe who have played atleast 10-15 games at the scg, yet we pick a victorian who has been playing in western Australia and did nothing. Even though O'Keefe is one of the few bowlers who has had success against England with bat and ball during the whole tour. I think Uzman should remain in the team. Put ponting at 5. Uzzy at 3, And hussey at 4. Clarke at 6. Its either that or shed them all and have Watson at 6 and get Shaun marsh to open with either the Kat or Hughes (if you want to develop openers for a few years then you go with young blood) Bowlers might be time for Copeland, Starc, Pattison, Hazelwood, and Bollinger as the spearhead. ALso Clark is still doing well

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2011, 5:40 GMT

    i have liked what i have seen in clarke as loving, enjoys his criket, plays attacking cricket, is not at all arrogant and is a good sport. Compare it to the grumpy ponting who always sledges umpires and players alike, clarke should be persisted with. The bowlers should be dropped though as should smith and hughes. I like Khwaja . O'keefe should be bought in.

  • Simon on January 6, 2011, 3:40 GMT

    This is part of cricket. Australia have been on top of the world for more than fifteen years. They beat all comers at home and abroad, but now they are in a transitional period. India will have to deal with the same thing in the next two years as their batting greats slowly depart. Sri Lanka too. England and Sth Africa are still relatively young teams, but Sth Africa's batting looks fragile without Kallis. Australia will come back. It might not be this year, it might not be next year, but we Aussies will be number one again. It might be sooner than you think.

  • Hector on January 6, 2011, 2:27 GMT

    Clarke's Captaincy skills have been as predicted. REMEDIAL...I wouldn't get him to Captain a district cricket side let alone a State team...heaven forbid a National team. Fancy handing the new ball to spray gun pressure, runs flowing....! Durrrrrr!!!!! Come on Cricket Australia....we need a future plan...NOW!!!! We are going to be in the cricket wilderness for a while at test level. We can maintain our number 1 ranking in one dayers when a new set of players come in: White, Bollinger, Mackay, etc. but GET RID OF CLARKE....Useless one day player and even worse Captain!!!!! Also, Finch MUST get a go....perhaps at Clarke's expense because Finch is only a ten times better batsman....Mmmmm??? Make that 20 times better!

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2011, 2:14 GMT

    The challenge system can ONLY be a valid system if ALL of the technology is used in the process. The fact that Bell was adjudged not out after being given out by the standing umpire and being shown to be clearly out by one of the pieces of technology is a disgrace and makes the referral system a joke and a total waste of time.

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2011, 2:10 GMT

    Always good to hear a well informed comment by PheonixSteve. England are just the better side by far, you don't get such massive totals being helped out by anything but your own skill and determination.

  • John on January 6, 2011, 2:09 GMT

    Hey, JoeyJoJo- don't know if you've forgotten this, but before the series started the Aussie fans told us that the side to get a decent first innings score and maintain bowling pressure throughout was..... Australia. Just ask popcorn, jonesy2, Something_Witty, Marcio and the rest. Now that they've had no first innings scores over 300 and have failed to maintain bowling pressure to the extent that England have 2 scores over 600 and 2 more over 500, you're telling us that England aren't a good side? England have won every series in every format in 2010/11. How much better do they need to be?

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