Third Test Match

Australia v England

Vic Marks

At Perth, November 29, 30, December 1, 2002. Australia won by an innings and 48 runs. Toss: England.

England's quest for the Ashes came to an end before those back home had opened a door on their Advent calendars. They were thrashed again, and there was barely a redeeming feature for the 4,000 diehard English supporters who swelled the crowd at the WACA to record proportions.

It had taken 11 days for the Australians to dismantle the English team; for the fundamentalists it took only six to make the world. By these standards alone England had been obdurate in this series. But it was difficult to regard this team as fundamentalist in approach. Hussain may have preached a "back to basics" doctrine, but no one in his ranks seemed to pay much attention. Indeed there were times when Hussain himself, through eccentric bowling plans or the odd wild hook shot, deserted his own philosophy.

By now the side was disorientated - by two thumping defeats at Brisbane and Adelaide and by a catalogue of injuries which had reached ridiculous proportions. For this game Caddick was absent, having failed to recover from his back spasms in Adelaide, and so was Crawley.

Even so, a measure of desperation was evident in England's selection. They decided to drop Hoggard and to replace him with Silverwood, who had flown out as a replacement when Jones was injured and had not bowled a ball in the middle. He shared the new ball with another recent arrival, Tudor. Dawson was retained even though orthodox spinners are usually redundant at Perth: there was no one else around. Almost inevitably, Silverwood bowled only four overs before his ankle gave way. An ECB press release quickly pointed out "This is a new injury and not related to the joint inflammation he experienced in the same ankle at the end of the English season." Which convinced nobody. The Ashes campaign had been a shambles.

There were plenty of examples of England's disintegration in Perth, but the most obvious were two run-outs, one scarring each innings. Both involved Vaughan and Butcher in dismissals which would have left primary school coaches aghast; both times, the needless sacrifice of a wicket led to the rest of the batting subsiding.

England's ineptitude tended to mask Australia's ruthless efficiency. After the game, Waugh acknowledged that some of their recent victories had been "a bit hollow" because they had been so one-sided. Apart from some fallibility in their close catching, the Australians were routinely brilliant here, but they were never put under any sort of pressure.

Losing the toss for the third time running hardly inconvenienced them. Given recent history and a patchwork bowling attack, Hussain had to bat first but, on the paciest wicket seen even at Perth for years, batting would present unique challenges. When the WACA pitch is fast, it bears no relation to any other in the world - and Australia's fastest bowler, Lee, had returned in place of Bichel.

At 69 for one, England appeared to be competing well, but then came the first mix-up between Vaughan and Butcher. Waugh, from cover, unerringly hit the stumps at the non-striker's end with Butcher yards adrift, a self-inflicted blow from which England never recovered. Soon there were ill-judged pulls and hooks from Hussain, Vaughan and Stewart, all caught behind as they failed to come to terms with exceptional bounce and pace. Only Key, in a stout, mostly passive knock, resisted long, and he was duped by the introduction of Martyn's gentle medium-pacers just before tea.

Run-scoring was a more straightforward occupation for Australia. Silverwood soon limped off, though not before his throw from the leg-side boundary had accounted for Langer, seeking an ambitious third run. Thereafter, all the Australians settled and sparkled briefly, though none of them managed a major innings. Ponting, in sublime form, looked set for his third century of the series until he played on to White. Martyn's measured 71 was the highest score, a modest contribution for a match award winner.

White snaffled five wickets, which flattered him, Harmison just one, which didn't. Harmison bowled with pace, usually short, and he often tested both the batsmen and a sprawling Stewart behind the stumps. He overcame a minor attack of the yips with impressive grit. On the second morning, he consistently lost his run-up, stuttering as he approached his delivery stride. Even so, he kept going and was still faster and more threatening than the other bowlers.

With a lead of 271, there was never much chance of Australia suffering the indignity of having to bat twice. Again, England folded after a masochistic run-out. This time, Vaughan was the victim, but Butcher was so ruffled by a second running aberration that he missed his next ball, from McGrath, was patently lbw, and swiped the bails with his bat to earn a fine. Having started the third day on 33 for one, England should have been 34 for five when Warne dropped a straightforward catch at first slip from Hussain's first ball.

A battling innings from Hussain, another stubborn one from Key and a flighty, though futile, effort from Stewart enabled England to reach 223, their highest second-innings score in the series so far. Just before the end, Tudor received a sickening blow to the head as he ducked into a bouncer from Lee. He was stretchered off and for a moment thought he had lost an eye. Fortunately, he suffered just a nasty gash, which required stitches, and a terrible headache.

Lee justified his return by bowling with fierce pace throughout. He looked briefly concerned by the damage he had caused to Tudor, but it did not deter him from bowling a vicious bouncer at the hapless Harmison second ball. Soon after that, Lee splattered Harmison's stumps and it was all over. The Australians had retained the Ashes, even though the little urn, to their dismay, was still locked away in St John's Wood.

Man of the Match: D. R. Martyn. Attendance: 56,974.

Close of play: First day, Australia 126-2 (Ponting 43, Martyn 20); Second day, England 33-1 (Vaughan 8, Dawson 8).

© John Wisden & Co