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Australia a step away from regaining Ashes

England loses top order, ends fourth day on 251 for 5 after Watson's ton helps Australia set a target of 504

Australia a step away from regaining Ashes - Cricket News
Shane Watson's run-a-ball century was studded with five sixes.
It has been a series of lows for England, a gently tiered downward progression of failure that has seen each new day get a little worse. But the fourth day of this third Test began with a session of such brutality that the whole thing began to seem markedly unfair. 

First Shane Watson blasted a run-a-ball century with five sixes. Then England’s fielding fell apart, as straightforward catches were dropped and difficult ones were carried over the rope for six. Enter George Bailey to equal the record for most runs scored off a Test over, before Michael Clarke declared with a lead of 503 in the first session on Monday (December 16). Australia’s total was 369 for 6, its fifth declaration from six innings this Ashes. If that weren’t enough, the first ball of England’s innings was an utterly devastating Ryan Harris effort that bowled Alastair Cook, England’s captain, for a golden duck. 

England managed to tame catastrophe in the last two sessions, but lost top-order wickets steadily enough to keep the Australians buoyant on another oppressively hot Perth day, eventually reaching stumps at 251 for 5 on the back of an impressive 72 not out from second-gamer Ben Stokes. With Stuart Broad unlikely to bat unless England is close to a last-day miracle, Australia has four wickets to claim on Tuesday for a series win and a 3-0 lead. England would need 253 more runs on an increasingly cracked pitch. 

Australia had emerged for the morning on 235 for 3. Watson was 29 from 66 balls overnight. In the first over this morning, after sizing up three dot balls, he smoked Graeme Swann’s next three for four, four and six. It began a sequence of 74 from his next 38 balls. Fours and sixes streaked the wagon wheel between midwicket and long-off, including some monstrous hits deep into the Prindiville stand. Swann suffered three more in one over, while Tim Bresnan’s leaping catch at long-off only carried him over the rope to concede another from James Anderson. The same over brought up Watson’s fourth Test century with a leg-glanced four. 

Steve Smith holed out to midwicket from Stokes in the meantime for 15, before Watson was bizarrely run out to cap a frantic 13 overs. Such was his distress as a top edge from Bresnan went vertically upwards that he forgot to cross for a run. Standing by the pitch, Ian Bell dropped a high ball. As he and Watson looked disbelievingly at the spilled missile, Bresnan had the presence of mind to pick it up and throw down the non-striker’s stumps. 

Bailey and Brad Haddin both sought to compensate Bresnan in the search for quick runs, but England was coming apart. Another skied catch from Bailey’s attempted lofted drive fell between Bell and Anderson as each waited for the other to take the routine chance. Haddin played a similar stroke next ball and finally got Bresnan a wicket to Swann’s catch running back from point. 

But the let-off only gave the green light for Bailey to explode. Australia’s new No. 6 has been in superlative striking form in the one-day game, with a recent run of 82, 87, 4, 85, 92*, 43, 98, and 156 at soaring strike-rates. But even those matches haven’t contained an over like this, with Bailey uppercutting Anderson for four, slamming one over the sightscreen for six, flicking two through square leg, four to a flip-full behind square, then two more sixes down the ground. Those 28 runs equalled Brian Lara’s record for the most taken from a Test over, against South Africa’s Robin Peterson almost ten years ago to the day. 

But with seven overs to lunch, there was one more act to come. The wicket of Cook was not the cherry on top for Australia, it was a whole extra cake. Coming over the wicket for the first ball of the innings, Harris sent the shiny new Kookaburra swinging into the left-hander’s pads, but as Cook played to counter the swing it pitched and broke back to take the off bail. 

As the crowd exploded in elation, the batting side could scarcely have held off a sense of doom. Each of England’s batsmen got starts after lunch, but Australia’s discipline held in the heat with little given away and the assurance of plenty more in the bank. Watson continued his day out by trapping Michael Carberry lbw for 31, while Joe Root’s patient 19 ended when he edged Johnson for a simply brilliant take by Haddin. Root referred the decision, confused by his bat hitting the ground, but the deflection was enormous. 

Kevin Pietersen took the side past tea, but fell when he tried to clear long-on for his second six in as many overs. Nathan Lyon was among the wicket-takers, and Pietersen’s 45 wasn’t going to save a Test match. 

The positive was that the dismissal united Bell and Stokes, who set about building England’s most convincing stand of the match with 99. Both took to the bowling with positive intent. Bell’s work on the uppercut was extraordinary – one that sailed away for six from Harris was a sweet miracle of timing. That over went for 15, Johnson went for nine and Peter Siddle for ten. But that Siddle over ended with Bell going once too often, his pet shot finally bringing him undone for 60, with the faintest kiss of the edge picked up by the snickometer and Australia's DRS review. 

Stokes ploughed on, taking four more boundaries before stumps, and swelling his score to a Test-best 72, while the beleaguered Prior survived various edges and wafts to ensure a recall tomorrow. As the first innings proved, past four wickets down there’s presently little resistance.

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