3rd Test, Perth

Australia v England, 2013-14

John Townsend

Ben Stokes recorded his maiden Test century, Australia v England, Test, Perth, 5th day, December 17, 2013
Ben Stokes recorded his maiden Test century on the fifth day of the third Test in Perth © Getty Images
Related Links
Tour and tournament reports : Australia v England, 2013-14
Series/Tournaments: England tour of Australia
Teams: Australia | England

At Perth, December 13-17, 2013. Australia won by 150 runs. Toss: Australia.
Shane Warne's ball of the century seemed just so 20th century. Now, as Australia's first series win over England in seven years moved to within touching distance, Harris lodged a claim for the ball of the 21st. The delivery to Cook which began England's second innings possessed everything a ball of the century should: almost supernatural physical properties, exquisite timing, and an impact beyond the sum of its parts. "It swung in a bit, moved away off the pitch, then flicked the top of off stump," ran the Harris understatement.

"Without sounding like I'm pumping up my own tyres, when you're teaching kids, that's what you're trying to show them." When you are bowling to the England captain, in his 100th Test, with a lead of 503 in the bank and nearly two days to go to work on a moonscape featuring cracks two inches wide, that's what you are trying to show him.

Harris had begun the Test with doubts growing over his durability, and his 34-year-old knees creaking dangerously. The ordeal of getting though the first two Tests, even with England wickets falling like confetti, had taken a toll. But Harris is nothing if not a man for the moment. With Australia two Tests up, and the third taking place on the bounciest, most evocative 22 yards of clay in world cricket, this was a moment no red-blooded fast bowler was going to miss.

He took the new ball at high noon on the fourth day, with England needing to bat for 161 overs to save the match and keep the series alive. One ball later, and the merest zephyr in England's sails had vanished. That moment, even more than the Test-record-equalling 28 runs Bailey had just taken from Anderson's final over of the Australian second innings, or the 22 Watson had hammered in what would prove the final over of Swann's lustrous career, announced that the Ashes were about to change hands.

The retention of Harris meant Australia entered a third consecutive Test with an unchanged team, a feat unmatched in seven years of almost equal success and turmoil. Bresnan finally returned for England in place of Monty Panesar. Among all the factors responsible for Australia's resurgence, Clarke's luck at the toss had gone almost unnoticed. The Western Australian Cricket Association had just appointed a new curator, Matt Page, and his fresh approach was evident several days before the match, when the pitch was already baked hard and devoid of much of the grass that had been retained for recent Perth Tests. The forecast promised 46°C, which meant the WACA clay was likely to split and shrink in a fashion not seen since the mid-1990s. Batting first would be a challenge; batting last a potential nightmare.

Australia started as though their first innings goal of 400 had to be achieved in a day. Perhaps Rogers was unaccustomed to the frenetic pace: a split-second hesitation midway through an adrenalin-charged single provided Anderson with time for an athletic pick-up and direct hit. In keeping with one of the themes of the series, Australia's top order continued to misfire. And it was not until Smith was joined by the evergreen Haddin that momentum finally shifted their way. It would remain there for the rest of the match.

Haddin had counter punched to great effect at Brisbane and Adelaide; here, he was able to extend the onslaught, while simultaneously ushering Smith towards his second Ashes century and the most significant innings of his fledgling career. Swann indulged his most uncanny habit - an ability to strike at the start of a spell - but his dismissal of Clarke (like Cook, winning his 100th Test cap) proved the falsest of dawns. In a reminder of the weapons at his disposal, Swann's second delivery had the hallmarks of a textbook off-spinner's wicket. The ball swerved away from the righthanded Clarke, dropped like a stone, jagged back from the tacky first-session surface and spat, as if from a trampoline. And so it arrived several centimetres higher and straighter, and a moment or two later, than Clarke anticipated. His firm push hovered just long enough for Cook, stationed at short midwicket, to get his hands under the ball.

Steep bounce and turn also accounted for Warner, whose ambitious cut ballooned to point where Carberry held on. Bailey top-edged the third of three successive bouncers from Broad to deep backward square to leave Australia 143 for five. But England lost their discipline, repeatedly dropping short - to the public irritation of bowling coach David Saker - and feeding the cross-bat strengths of Smith and Haddin. In 36 overs, they added 134. Johnson chipped in and, though England's seamers belatedly found their length on the second morning, Australia scrambled to 385.

Moulding his talent and will into a semblance of the cast-iron epics he had delivered so devastatingly three years earlier, Cook fabricated the early stages of a capable English response with a watchful 72. That followed a forthright opening stand of 85 with Carberry - the tourists' best for the first wicket in the series - and the controversial departure of Root, aghast when the third umpire, Tony Hill, turned down his review against a caught behind decision off Watson. But anything more substantial proved elusive.

Those stalwarts of previous Ashes successes - Pietersen, Bell and Prior - were unable to make meaningful contributions, though Bell was a victim of Hawk-Eye after Harris reviewed an lbw appeal. The midwicket position of the media tent enabled the press to observe how many no-balls were being allowed by umpires Bowden and Erasmus, and confirmed the extreme bounce. Forget technology: this one looked to be going over.

Australia began their second innings with a lead of 134, which was nearly enough to be comfortable. Warner, who should have been stumped twice by Prior off Swann, on 13 and 89, en route to his second century of the series, and Watson, in the fourth of his stuttering and vexed career, made certain. He finally batted with the freedom and verve he has displayed in cricket's more lucrative short forms.

Swann was taken for 14 from the first over of the fourth day, and runs continued to flow at such a torrent - 134 runs came in 17 overs that morning - that Clarke's declaration target of 500 ahead was achieved well before lunch. The absence of Broad helped. Disconcerted by the ferocity of Australia's attack whenever he came out to bat, he went back to a Johnson yorker which speared into his right foot and sent him to hospital for scans. "You're still not walking when you're out," one wag informed him as he hobbled through the WACA members' area; Broad soon discovered he would not bowl again in the match and would bat only if absolutely required. He attended the press conference that night on crutches.

Broad's absence left England bereft of defensive options. With Anderson and Swann singled out for harsh treatment, Watson raced from 50 to 102 in 28 balls. He did provide a touch of humour when Bell dropped a sitter, only for Bresnan, the frustrated bowler, to pick the ball up and hurl down the stumps with Watson stationary midway down the pitch. Clarke closed the innings at 369 for six.

Harris had the new ball before lunch. Cook had been undone by a Johnson peach in the Second Test, yet even that searing blow could not match the stunning impact of this preemptive strike. Pietersen threatened briefly to harness ambition to ability. But, not for the first time, one exceeded the other: his bid to clear the man at long-on, hitting Lyon into the wind, fell a few fatal yards short. Still, he demonstrated that a cavalry charge may not be any less effective than dogged defence on a shifting and unstable surface from which missiles were jagging in unpredictable fashion.

Stokes, who added 99 at almost five an over with the pugnacious Bell, adapted the Pietersen approach soundly enough to ease to 120, a century in only his second Test that provided England with a rare shining moment. Johnson collected another four wickets to make it 23 in the series, including the last two in a hurry after lunch. That ignited much Australian rejoicing and a rendition of the team song on a pitch soon drenched in a celebratory reprisal of England's sprinkling at The Oval four months earlier - this time of the alcoholic variety.
Man of the Match: S. P. D. Smith. Attendance: 83,760.

© John Wisden & Co.