Australia took only ten sessions to improve their unbeaten run against England to eight victories and four draws since the Sydney Test of 1986-87, despite Reid's absence with a callus on his foot and the fact that at tea on the first day they were looking at an England scoreboard reading 212 for three. Dashing, attacking play from Lamb and Smith, combined with Australia's loosest bowling of the series on the fastest outfield, lifted England's hopes; a moment's over-confidence, a dubious lbw decision, the well-established temperamental and technical flaws of the lower-order batting, and fiery bowling by McDermott reversed the position in the twinkling of an eye.
Although McDermott disposed of Gooch, Atherton and later Smith in the first two sessions, his eighteen overs had cost 80 runs. After tea he had five for 17 in 6.4 overs, giving him eight England wickets for the second time in ten Tests. He had taken eight for 141 at Old Trafford in 1985. The critical dismissal came in the first over after the resumption when Lamb tried to pull a ball from clear of his off stump and was caught behind the bowler by Border, running from mid-on. If it was a dangerous stroke immediately after an interval, the under-pitched ball had proved highly profitable for both Lamb and Smith in a third-wicket stand of 141 at three an over. Lamb's highest Test score in Australia, beating his 83 at Melbourne in 1982-83, was crisply struck off 122 balls in 206 minutes, and contained a straight six off Matthews and thirteen fours. Smith, who was caught head high at second slip off a fast-flying edged drive 25 minutes before tea, hit a six and nine fours off 120 balls in 153 minutes.
On an ideal batting pitch, in perfect weather and with an outfield so quick that Atherton found the 95-yard boundary only just behind square leg when he jammed down on a yorker in the second over, a score of 400 was still possible. But in McDermott's next over after Lamb's dismissal, Stewart was given out lbw off a ball that seemed likely to miss the leg stump, and the innings folded. From 212 for three, England were all out for 244 in 70 minutes and 12.4 overs. Newport, borrowed from the England A team in Sri Lanka three days before the match, was out first ball, McDermott's seventh victim.
Australia's innings illustrated one of the essential differences between the teams - lower-order batting strength. Midway through the second day they were 168 for six, but for the third time Matthews became England's stumbling block, supervising the addition of 139 runs for the last four wickets in a typically adhesive, three-and-a-quarter-hour innings. He also displayed tactical flair, for the first time in the series exercising the right to continue batting after 6.00 pm if fewer than 90 overs had been bowled. With nine overs due, and Alderman looking untroubled, it was the right decision against a team flagging after six hours in a temperature of 82 degrees. Ironically the No. 11 fell five balls later to Defreitas.
Only 63 behind, England still had hopes of fighting back to win. In the event there was more movement for the fast bowlers than Western Australians could recall on a third day at Perth. But for luck running against Hughes, and Newport's robust 38-run stand with Malcolm at the end, Australia could have finished the series as they started, with a three-day win. Hughes's line hardly wavered from off stump or just outside, and figures of four for 37 did not do him justice. They did, however, take him past 100 Test wickets; and when Defreitas was caught behind, Alderman had his 100th wicket in Ashes Tests.
Australia, needing 120, lost Taylor in the final over of the day, but Marsh and Boon scored the remaining 81 in 87 minutes after the only rest day of the series. Fittingly, the winning runs, a sprinted two, came from a defensive stroke by Boon that rolled no further than the square-leg umpire, a range that, because of the speed of Australia's fielding, would have restricted England to a single.
Man of the Match: C. J. McDermott. Attendance: 47,500.
Man of the Series: B. A. Reid.
Close of play: First day, Australia 19-1 (M. A. Taylor 9*, D. C. Boon 9*); Second day, Australia 307; Third day, Australia 39-1 (G. R. Marsh 19*).