By Dave Clark
If Ben Stokes showed flashes of potential in his first eight days as a Test cricketer, his ninth is likely to go down as marking the arrival of a future England star.
The Durham all-rounder bowled creditably in Adelaide, taking 2-70 in Australia's first innings, and had again run in for long spells in the heat as the hosts built a substantial lead at Perth - Stuart Broad's injury forcing Stokes' promotion to first change.
Stokes had already impressed with the ball in international cricket - ripping through Australia with 5-61 at the Ageas Bowl in a one-day international during September and regularly sending the ball down at speeds above 90 miles per hour.
That performance went some way to securing his place on the plane to Australia, but with the bat his first 11 international innings across all formats yielded only 174 runs, with a highest score of 31.
When Stokes came to the crease at 121 for four today there was a case for digging in and trying to prolong the match for as long as possible, but the left-handed batsman shunned such an approach in favour of his natural attacking game to great effect.
In tandem with Ian Bell 99 runs were added for the fifth wicket, and when his partner departed Stokes' coruscating innings continued as he reached 72 not out from 96 balls by the close.
On a WACA surface wrought with ever-expanding cracks, the 28 runs required for a maiden Test century are far from assured, but Stokes' pugnacious approach has already brought 12 boundaries and forced the Australia bowlers to vary their line and length.
That has been a rare phenomenon in this series, and whether or not Stokes can be part of a remarkable rescue operation on day five, England look to have found a player who can trouble their fiercest rivals for years to come.
One player in the opposition ranks who has certainly taken note is fellow all-rounder Shane Watson, who was particularly impressed with the way Stokes' innings came after bowling 35 overs in hot conditions.
“I think he's been very impressive,” said Watson. “To see the workload that he went through when Stuart Broad hurt himself, today and yesterday as well, and he sustained his pace really well, he put in the whole time.
“And the way he batted today, he really took on the game beautifully. I think he's a very exciting prospect for England to be able to see the way he just comes in.
“He certainly doesn't take a backward step at all. He did in his debut as well at Adelaide; he didn't take a backward step.
“I think he's a really exciting all-rounder and England should be very keen to see him continue because he's going to be a really good cricketer and I think he's only going to get better.”