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England 0. Ashes suspense 1

Posted in England in Australia 2010-11

Ryan Harris

A job well done for Ryan Harris, who helped wrap up victory in Perth this morning

As losing captains are fond of saying, there are always positives to take from defeat.

From an onlooker’s point of view, that is especially true in the wake of England’s humbling in the third Ashes Test, which saw them surrender their 1-0 lead in the series.

Australia’s victory means the sides cannot be separated heading to Melbourne for the penultimate match of a series which is proving as unpredictable and as it is entertaining.

The manner of Australia’s triumph - completed with almost two days to spare and by the overwhelming margin of 267 runs - has lifted the sense of anticipation ahead of the Boxing Day Test to a palpable level.

Those England fans in Perth still cursing the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Mike Hussey (again) and Ryan Harris would do well to look beyond their St George's flag boxer shorts for a moment and consider the alternative.

Victory over an Australia side low on form, devoid of ideas and seemingly lacking in spirit would have given England an unassailable 2-0 advantage, and, while I’m sure Andrew Strauss and company would have enjoyed their turkey/barbecued shrimp dinner considerably more having retained the Ashes, it would have done little in terms of suspense for the rest of the winter.

The beauty of any sporting contest is its capacity to surprise and, in that respect, the third Test delivered in spades.

Ridiculed at home and abroad after being dominated by England for much of the first two Tests, Australia were once again afforded little sympathy when they were bowled out for 268 on the opening day at the WACA (Ricky Ponting later claimed to be content with that total, but one senses he was in a minority Down Under).

Mitchell Johnson

Which Mitchell Johnson will turn up in Melbourne? One of the many talking points ahead of the Boxing Day Test

With England 78 for none in reply on the second morning, the pattern that had been established in Brisbane and reinforced in such ruthless fashion in Adelaide looked set to continue.

One devastating spell from Mitchell Johnson, described by Ponting as the finest of his rather erratic career, changed all that.

It provided Australia with the first-innings cushion and, crucially, confidence they needed to press for victory, which was wrapped up inside an hour this morning. From no-hopers to Ashes favourites in two days.

Only time will tell whether Ponting’s claim that Johnson’s burst will decide the series proves prescient or misplaced, but there were enough talking points to emerge from this match to keep the conversation flowing between English and Australians alike over the festive period.

Which Johnson will turn up in Melbourne? Should Ponting risk playing with a broken finger? Will Australia change a winning side and play a spinner? Can England bat as badly again? Will Brad Haddin ever stop appealing for catches when he knows damn well the batsman hasn’t hit it?

They are all intriguing subplots in a series which had threatened to become as one-sided as an FA Cup third-round tie, and it would be a major surprise if we don’t see (or hear, depending on how close to the stump mic the players are) more of the verbal exchanges which characterised the latest clash. Rest assured the 100,000 people crammed into the MCG will have their say too.

One of the great fixtures on the cricket calendar just got even greater.

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