England slide to defeat
Australia exacted immediate Ashes revenge over England by sweeping to a 267-run win with almost two days to spare in the third Test at the WACA.
A mere 50 minutes were all they needed to seal victory this morning, collecting the final five wickets as the tourists subsided to 123 all out.
It was a triumph every bit as comprehensive as England’s innings-and-71-run win in Adelaide, and leaves a wonderfully unpredictable series tantalisingly poised at 1-1 with two matches remaining.
England’s imposing target of 391 to win - and retain the Ashes (a prospect which could not have been further from their minds as they watched the jubilant Australians cavorting on the outfield) - was rendered notional by their collapse to 81 for five yesterday evening.
However, the alacrity with which they were hurried out today was equally shocking, reflecting how the fortunes of these teams have changed so markedly in the space of little more than a week.
England lost five wickets in 37 balls this morning; their second innings spanned just 37 overs in total; and Jonathan Trott’s 31 was the highest score, almost double the next best contribution.
Ryan Harris struck four times today to claim Test-best figures of 6-47 and Mitchell Johnson finished with nine cheap wickets in the match, a measure of where this game was won.
Given their travails in Adelaide, the hosts’ all-round performance said much for the spirit of a side described in some quarters, prematurely and foolishly, as the worst Australia have produced.
Amid the usual gnashing of teeth in the wake of a defeat which evoked memories of England’s loss at Headingley last year - when victory, as in this instance, would have secured the Ashes - it is worth remembering that Andrew Strauss' team won that series.
By the same token, although victory here restored parity, the Australians will believe, with some justification, that they hold the psychological edge heading to Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test.
This match is likely to be remembered most vividly for Johnson’s six-wicket haul in the first innings - it was, after all, the pivotal contribution - but Harris wrote his own name into the history books by dashing England’s victory hopes in emphatic fashion.
Having removed Paul Collingwood with the last ball of the day yesterday, he needed just 11 deliveries to make his mark this morning.
If the departure of James Anderson, the nightwatchman, who had his off stump uprooted playing back to one that kept a shade low, was something of a formality, Harris took infinitely greater pleasure from removing both of England's last recognised batsmen.
Ian Bell, having struck three fours this morning, was palpably lbw on the front foot - his review of the decision was always going to be immaterial - and Matt Prior was beaten by steep bounce three balls later. Mike Hussey, diving to his right at gully, collected a looping edge off a thick edge.
Graeme Swann played on aiming an extravagant drive at Johnson, whose ambitions of collecting 10 wickets in the game were ended when Harris had Steven Finn, on the back foot, taken by Steven Smith at third slip.
Cue scenes of great joy on the pitch, with Australia joined by Ricky Ponting, who played no part in the denouement due to a fractured finger.
It was a rare blemish on a display that must have exceeded his expectations and, one suspects, most of Australia.