Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 16, 2013

Stokes gives England stay of execution


England 251 and 5 for 251 (Stokes 72*, Bell 60) require another 253 runs to beat Australia 385 and 6 for 369 (Watson 103)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It seems only a matter of time now. Australia slipped to within five wickets of regaining the Ashes on a day of free scoring and the occasional moment of terror caused by a WACA Ground pitch that is cracking up almost as comprehensively as England have done to find themselves in this position.

There was some faint consolation to be found for the tourists in the unaffected strokeplay of Ben Stokes but any day on which the spearhead of your bowling attack is taken for 28 runs from an over and your captain clean bowled first ball is not one for England to remember fondly. They plumbed considerable depths in the morning session, as Shane Watson then George Bailey battered the bowling senseless to allow Clarke to declare well before lunch.

Following Harris' first ball, Australia's bowling was not their best of the series, as the pacemen sought wickets with an impatience they have largely eschewed in favour of unrelenting pressure. Nonetheless, they did enough to bring the match to a juncture at which only something truly miraculous will prevent anything other than an Australian victory sometime on Tuesday. They may only require four more wickets - Stuart Broad's brief foray to the nets with a badly bruised foot did not appear promising.

Watson benefited from a situation in which he was free to play on instinct, depositing Swann into the stands with relish, crashing 37 runs from 13 balls he faced from England's No. 1 spinner. He enjoyed a moment of fortune when one straight hit was caught by Tim Bresnan, only for the fielder to tumble over the long off boundary. Watson's departure was a comic masterpiece, skying a pull shot that Ian Bell dropped, but then run out as the annoyed bowler Bresnan threw down the stumps with Watson wandering out of his ground oblivious to the danger.

Bailey equalled the record for the most runs scored in a Test over from Anderson, allowing Michael Clarke to declare the at the psychologically numbing moment a third straight six of the over had crashed into the sightscreen beyond the boundary.

Left with a handful of overs to face before lunch, the bedraggled tourists reeled from the loss of Alastair Cook to a wondrous first delivery of the innings from Ryan Harris that shaped in then held its line to pluck the off bail. Joe Root and Michael Carberry did well to survive to the interval.

Resuming with an enormous task ahead simply to get through to stumps, Carberry and Root aimed mainly to survive. Clarke shuffled his bowlers around, and Watson struck, confounding Carberry from around the wicket just as Harris did in the first innings. The ball was full, shaped in a touch to beat the inside edge and would have crashed into the stumps.

Pietersen pushed his first ball from Watson down the ground for four, and looked comfortable enough as he survived an initial burst from his nemesis Peter Siddle. Clarke called on Johnson from the River End, and one ball angling across Root drew a loose flirt and an edge wonderfully taken by Haddin. Root hit the ground at the same time as the ball and immediately reviewed. His sense of injustice was mitigated by replays showing a clear edge, leaving Bell and Pietersen to scrape their way to tea.

Needing seven wickets in the session to claim victory and the Ashes, Australia's eagerness was manifested in some of their more impatient bowling of the series. Pietersen played breezily, advancing to loft Lyon into the Lillee-Marsh Stand and looking for a moment like he was capable of anything. But Clarke's choice of ends for Lyon was intelligent, coaxing Pietersen to hit into the breeze, and his next attempt held up. Harris, with an eternity to settle under the chance, held it safely.

That wicket might on another day have opened the floodgates, but Bell and Stokes responded to a seemingly hopeless situation with admirable verve. For the first time in this series Harris was hit out of the attack, while runs accrued rapidly enough to give the Barmy Army some reason to sing other than their own fortitude. Stokes was particularly fluent, driving ramrod straight and pulling with certainty.

Bell was organised and elegant as ever, prospering with several uppercuts over the slips. But it was with one such effort that he gave up his wicket, Siddle striking as the shadows grew long. The edge was audible, but the umpire Marais Erasmus declined the appeal - the sound apparently lost in the afternoon Perth breeze. Bell reacted like a man on death row, as the indication of Real-Time Snicko was enough to overturn the verdict, despite a lack of Hot Spot evidence.

Siddle celebrated this moment in a manner that suggested the finish line was imminent, but Stokes and Prior survived, averting any thoughts of the extra half-hour. For England, it was a stay of execution. For Australia, one more sleep until the Ashes.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    Just imagine, if Peitersen & Prior play for South Africa, Stokes for New Zealand, , Ballance for Zimbabwe, Morgan for Ireland, ... (this is just a sample) -- and Andy Flower coaches Zimbabwe what would have been the "level" of the England Team? Just give it a thought.

    And also, on the flip side, how many more Roots would have found their way to their own national team? Think about it.

  • Christopher on December 17, 2013, 4:54 GMT

    @ Roshan - because this is the first bit of cricket England has played since july. England does this every year, they rap up a long season after the last series at home at the end of summer and take every single second of off-time the schedule allows regardless of who the opponent is after the break. Most professional sportsmen would say ok we have a three and a half month break in the schedule and then it's off to Australia for a 5 Test Ashes series. Lets take 2 and a half months off and then start a2 week conditioning program followed by a couple of warm ups against whoever we can get a game against even if it is our EPP team to get back into some sort of game fitness and form. Then we'll take a week off and then head out to Australia and get 2 warm up matches in and be prepared for the series start. Not England, they take ever possible second off folly out and use 2 warm up matches to prepare for a 5 game series and then wonder why everyone is not prepared and fail miserably.

  • Graham on December 17, 2013, 4:43 GMT

    landl47 ; Winning two man of the match awards, going a long way to single handedly returning the ashes then has a couple of unproductive innings and you jump on his back. YOu are usually a insightful commenter but this one is absolute rubbish, not everyone is going to take 10 wickets every test match and I admit I haven't seen much of this test but what I have seen has mostly been a fast, very accurate bowler. The calls of the return to the old Mitch with one game is probably one of the worse calls on here, I didn't expect it to come from you.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2013, 4:27 GMT

    Just a gentle nudge to everyone lauding Ben Stokes. Born Christchurch, New Zealand 1991. Learned to play the game here. But well done.The rest of the England team look like they need a few months in our Coromandel. I predict the NZ team will be top 4-5 material when Ryder and Guptill return. You read it here first.

  • Sammy on December 17, 2013, 4:23 GMT

    Stokes is a Kiwi...that explains his talent and fearlessness, which has always been in short supply in England!

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2013, 4:06 GMT

    Well done Stokes - some positive light for the poms. Quite funny their most inexperienced player is showing the grit you expect from the old guard.

  • Chuck on December 17, 2013, 3:07 GMT

    Hey Watto, it's not that difficult to get a ton when your team has a lead of 300 plus nor to hit out at tired bowlers who have been deserted by their batsmen. Neither George nor Watto have done much when the pressure is on...

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    The giant cracks in the pitch are a disgrace. This match should be abandoned and we go to Melbourne at 2-0 with 2 to play. If the Aussies win today then they should hand the Ashes back to England.

  • Jim on December 17, 2013, 2:20 GMT

    when this is all done, 5 zero for Australia

  • Tim on December 17, 2013, 2:08 GMT

    @at all the people sticking up for the Barmy Army for staying at the matches even though they are getting flogged - they are on holiday with nothing else to do but stay at the cricket, duh! "But the trumpet man is still playing" oh, havent you ever watched a carrabean or indian match with Aussies playing in it? Trumpets and vuvuzela's galore. The Barmy Army are just a bunch of drunk tourists with nowhere else to go. That does not make them great supporters. Watch the boxing day test or any test match crowd on the weekend against any opposition in Australia - great vocal crowds and the most knowledgable in world cricket as well.