Johnson forces the pace for Australia
Mitchell Johnson delivered a timely reminder of his potency to help propel Australia into an enviable position in the third Ashes Test at the WACA.
Dropped in unceremonious fashion for the Adelaide Test and written off by many observers after his repeated failure to perform in Ashes contests this year and last, Johnson responded with a wonderfully skilful display as England were hustled out for 187.
Swinging the ball back in to the right-handers late and at pace, Johnson fully deserved figures of 6-38 from 17.3 overs, marking a belated return to form at the most crucial juncture and transforming a contest which appeared to be slipping away from Australia.
Ryan Harris reinforced the gains made by Johnson as he collected three wickets - including those of Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell, both of whom passed 50 - and condemned England to a first-innings deficit of 81.
Although England made inroads into Australia’s top order at the second attempt, Shane Watson carried the hosts to 119 for three by the close of a day when voices were raised and tempers frayed. Their lead currently stands at a considerable 200.
Watson and Mike Hussey will resume tomorrow on 61 and 24 respectively, having helped restore order after three wickets fell for the addition of 33 runs.
Phil Hughes’ fallibility outside off stump was exposed by Steven Finn as he edged to third slip; Ricky Ponting was caught down the leg side for the second time in the series after England’s initial appeal was rejected; and Michael Clarke’s sketchy innings was ended by a thick inside edge off Chris Tremlett.
But Watson and Hussey batted with an authority which will, perversely, serve as a source of confidence for England as they contemplate a fourth-innings fight on a surface which is expected to remain reliable.
Johnson’s influence on this match is far from over, but his input thus far is the single biggest reason behind Australia taking charge.
In removing Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood in five overs this morning, Johnson played the pivotal role in reducing the tourists to 98 for five from the comfort of 78 without loss this morning.
In the space of 45 pulsating minutes England’s ambitions went from overhauling Australia’s seemingly modest 268 - and establishing a sizeable lead - to limiting the damage caused by the sort of batting collapse which many thought was a thing of the past.
At the same time, Johnson provided a major shot in the arm to Australia’s flagging Ashes hopes on a day that began in inauspicious fashion, with Strauss edging Harris between wicketkeeper and first slip.
Having seen a statuesque Brad Haddin and Watson allow what should have been a straightforward chance to fly between them, neither Strauss nor Cook were unduly inconvenienced against a ball that was only 12 overs old when play resumed.
However, Johnson - emboldened by yesterday’s innings of 62 - suddenly found the form which saw him named International Cricketer of the Year in 2009 to strike three times in 12 balls.
Cook was caught low down at gully for 32 when he drove without sufficient foot movement, and both Trott and Pietersen - the latter after an unsuccessful review - were trapped in front by late swing back in as they played across the line.
Harris angled one across Strauss to locate his outside edge moments after he brought up a 95-ball half-century, and Johnson compounded the tourists’ woes by arcing one back into Collingwood.
Beaten for pace and struck on the move, Collingwood was initially spared by umpire Marais Erasmus, but Ponting’s decision to ask for a review, which appeared to be borne out of hope rather than conviction, saw the verdict reversed.
England’s position was such that a sixth-wicket stand of 47 between Bell and Matt Prior, the last recognised batsmen, was especially important.
Employing tactics that would would have put Douglas Jardine to shame, Peter Siddle gained reward - and a first wicket since the opening day in Brisbane - when Prior, jumping across to defend a short delivery, deflected the ball on to leg stump via hip and glove. The ensuing verbal exchange between Ponting and Prior was equally unedifying.
Graeme Swann performed a similar role to Prior, allowing Bell to go to his third fifty in as many innings this series, until he was caught behind pushing at Harris.
Bell, his motives skewed by the presence of the tail, edged a flashing drive at Harris to second slip, where Ponting held a sharp catch at head height, and Johnson capped a marvellous display by uprooting Tremlett’s off stump and having James Anderson taken by first slip.
Anderson was afforded a fruity send-off by Johnson, with whom he had words yesterday - proof, if any were needed, that the competitive juices continue to flow in a series which is coming to the boil nicely.