Third Test, Perth

Australia v England 2006-07

Gideon Haigh

At Perth, December 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 2006. Australia won by 206 runs. Toss: Australia.



Gotcha: Ricky Ponting with the Ashes urn after the Perth Test © Getty Images
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After doing without the Ashes for only three Tests and 462 days - the briefest custody in history - Australia regained them at 2.13 p.m. on December 18, when Shane Warne bowled Monty Panesar to secure an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the series. As at Adelaide, England had had their chances; as at Adelaide, they squandered them. Australian captain Ricky Ponting, in contrast, rightly saluted his team's "tough cricket in tough moments".

England were at their best on the first day when, having finally included Panesar, they found a way through Australia's top half without, for once, being inconvenienced by the bottom half. Harmison, aided by bounce and breeze, trapped an uneasy Ponting, and it was 69 for three at lunch when Langer played inside Panesar's seventh delivery. Once again, England could not budge Hussey, who remained insuperable after four hours. But Harmison and Panesar made good progress in the afternoon against some reckless strokes, not least from Symonds, recalled after Damien Martyn's sudden retirement; he top-edged Panesar soon after hitting him for two straight sixes. Panesar was only the fourth spinner to take five in an innings in a Perth Test, a reward for bounce in more than one sense, and he belied his unathletic reputation with bounding celebrations of each dismissal.

The only batsman who could consider himself unfortunate was McGrath, given out caught by umpire Koertzen when the ball struck his shoulder. Obviously irked, McGrath began Australia's retaliation by tempting Cook into another indiscreet drive, while Lee had Bell caught behind and the impressive Clark tormented Collingwood before the close. Seemingly racked by the memory of Adelaide, a succession of English batsmen tilted at the bowling before they had the measure of the conditions. Koertzen claimed another victim, Strauss, giving him out caught behind when he missed an attempt to repeat a cover-driven four. Otherwise, the strokes were as impetuous as Australia's, and more inept.

Flintoff, having skipped the tour match against Western Australia, looked not only as though he had never batted at the WACA before, but almost as though he had never batted, floundering against Symonds's auxiliary medium-pace. Jones, after 51 innings before getting a Test duck (an England record), completed the first of a brace with a tame prod to gully.

After an anxious start, Pietersen opened out attractively: tall enough to cope with the bounce, strong enough to manhandle such loose deliveries as he received. However, he overestimated the need to attack once the tail joined him and misread the risks of hitting into the Fremantle Doctor; Symonds accepted a catch at deep mid-off from a hit of greater height than length. Harmison and Panesar then showed up the earlier batsmen by adding 40 in nine overs for the last wicket, without the semblance of risk. No better stroke was seen in the innings than Panesar's on-drive to the boundary off Clark.

When Langer was bowled through the gate by the first ball of Australia's second innings, an inswinger from Hoggard, 21 wickets had fallen in 812 deliveries - a rate of one every six and a half overs, hinting at some good bowling and profligate batting. Ponting and Hayden put a stop to this, exploiting Flintoff 's lacklustre captaincy and some slovenly English outcricket to build on their team's modest lead. Australia were 148 to the good with nine second-innings wickets in reserve at stumps and, even though Ponting fell early the following morning, these were pivotal runs.

The third day was a jumbo pack of incident, featuring 427 runs and five wickets in temperatures of more than 40°C. Four of the wickets, but 408 of the runs, were Australian, including Hussey's first Ashes hundred, Clarke's second and Gilchrist's third. Hayden might have had his fifth had he not lost patience in sight of lunch and tried to force the persevering Panesar off the back foot. The fierce heat taxed everyone, even Hussey's concentration lapsing at times, and his 103 was probably his least accomplished innings of the series: Koertzen rejected a confident appeal for a catch at silly point when he was 15, Jones on the run towards long leg failed to reach a top edge at 48, and Strauss standing wide got only his right wrist to a snick at 78.

The eager Clarke kept Hussey going in a stand of 151 at almost five an over. Pretty soon, however, Clarke stood back and let Gilchrist bludgeon England towards submission. After sauntering to 50 in 40 balls, he plunged headlong to 100 in another 17: only Viv Richards had scored a faster Test century, taking 56 balls against England at St John's in 1985-86. Gilchrist's innings eventually consumed 59 balls, studded with 12 fours and four sixes.

Recently out of sorts, he benefited from some English hospitality. He did not face Flintoff after he was 11, nor Hoggard until he was 74, or Harmison until 81. Able to ease in against Pietersen's part-time off-breaks and Mahmood's mediocre mediums, he was also invited to hit Panesar with a stiff breeze towards the midwicket boundary. Some of his strokes, nonetheless, were majestic. The first ball of Panesar's 34th over was nudged into the off; 26646 followed, all in the direction of the Gloucester Park trotting track. After the over, Gilchrist, then on 73, solicited advice from his captain: should he continue attacking in order to expedite a declaration? "We read the answer as a yes, apparently it was a no," Gilchrist explained. "At our boot camp, communications skills were one of the topics. And obviously we didn't pass." He and Clarke had ransacked 162 in 20 overs, and 59 in the next five, by the time they heard from Ponting again.

Set an academic 557 to win, England lost Strauss to the fourth ball of the innings, padding up to Lee and given out again by Koertzen, who was apparently oblivious to the height. But Cook and Bell kept Australia waiting more than three hours into the fourth day for the next wicket, with a mixture of sound defence and judicious strokes.

Bell's highest innings against Australia was ended by the hard-working Warne; Cook prolonged his calm maiden Ashes hundred into the evening, finally succumbing to McGrath and the second new ball. Night-watchman Hoggard was yorked in the same over, and only some lusty blows by Flintoff, who scored 51 in 67 balls, and untroubled defence by Pietersen, undefeated after four hours, delayed Australia's recovery of the Ashes. It came two balls after lunch when Panesar attempted a primitive sweep and gave Warne his 699th Test wicket.

Man of the Match: M. E. K. Hussey. Attendance: 103,440.

© Wisden Cricketers' Almanack