England come up short once again in Ashes

Sixth wicket stand of 124 keeps Australia in driving seat on first day of third test

Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson of Australia walk off the ground at the end of day one of the third Ashes test in Perth. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Steve Smith and Mitchell Johnson of Australia walk off the ground at the end of day one of the third Ashes test in Perth. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

 

As the ball softened during the afternoon and the temperature at the Waca rose to somewhere north of Mike Atherton’s batting average, Australia wrestled back control of the third Test after England had offered a strong riposte to their Adelaide defeat. For this, they have to thank Steve Smith and, yet again, Brad Haddin, who batted with considerable elan bordering on recklessness. Having ridden their luck early on they constructed a sixth-wicket partnership of 124 that rather emphasised, in a roundabout way, the true value of Mitchell Johnson in scuppering the England lower order in this series.

By the close, with Steve Smith on 103 and Johnson 39, Australia, at 326 for six, had created a good position for themselves, although England challenged them throughout and their cricket was of the highest order. Certainly, as they sat in their ice-baths, they would not have regarded the total as insurmountable. The ball scarcely beat the bat and the only active thing Billy Bowden had to do as umpire was count to six, something he failed to manage only twice.

If Johnson has been getting the plaudits and attention, then it is Haddin who is becoming a strong challenger for the player of the series. In the first Test in Brisbane, Haddin and Johnson added 114 for the seventh wicket to take the score from a perilous 132 for six to 246 for seven. At Adelaide Oval, it was Haddin, again, this time with Michael Clarke, who put on 200 for the sixth wicket, taking Australia from 257 for five to 447 for six.

The best England have managed for any of the last five wickets in that time is the 45 that Matt Prior and Stuart Broad added in the second innings in Adelaide. In the first innings, none betters the 37 that Ian Bell and Monty Panesar added in Adelaide. Australia’s average score for the last five wickets is in excess of 65; England’s fewer than 15. And therein lies the real difference between the sides. One of England’s strengths over recent years has deserted them. Perhaps they should grow moustaches.

Haddin eventually went for 55, his fourth successive half-century, caught at midwicket as he tried and failed to pull a short ball from Ben Stokes, reward for a determined lad who if he was guilty, as he was in Adelaide, of bowling too short at first, did so now as part of a strategy. It was an important wicket, for it is not just the body that flags towards the end of such a draining day. But Smith went on to complete, from 173 balls, what is an important century not just for the match but in terms of his position in the Australia side.

Together with Haddin, he pulled the innings round after what was a hubristic hell-for-leather run-a-ball start by them, as if the series was already won and this was a celebratory romp. Haddin’s dismissal brought in the local hero Johnson and, in the final hour of a long day, he and Smith added a further 69, seeing off seven overs of a rather placid new ball in the process.

England held up well in the conditions after Alastair Cook had lost his third toss of the series. The selection of the two sides went pretty much as expected, with England opting to make only a single change, with Tim Bresnan coming in instead of Monty Panesar, while Australia named an unchanged side, Ryan Harris proving fit.

The clamour for England to include one of their giants as a bowling option was always going to fall on deaf ears. England needed Bresnan to bowl into the wind when it arrived in the afternoon for his capacity to bowl to a plan, and they wanted Swann as a spin option and not least for him to stand at second slip. As it transpired, he held a blinder there and picked up two good wickets including that of the captain so it was not a bad call.

Of the tall men, the most dangerous at the moment is Boyd Rankin but there are doubts whether he is quite ready for Test cricket in these conditions, although he might well have been worth the risk. Chris Tremlett did a steady job in Brisbane but Steven Finn, on whom some hopes had been pinned when the party was selected, has regressed dramatically and is very much a remedial work in progress. As pertinently, England went with the attack most likely to be able to bowl the length appropriate to the Waca pitch, which is much fuller than many might imagine, given all the talk of the “deck of death”.

Yet again, Broad was the most dangerous of the seamers, always harrying, ruffling a few feathers and producing a high-class old-ball spell that Haddin in particular did extremely well to survive. Jimmy Anderson’s contribution was less obvious and he went wicket-less. But, although there was no swing for him, he still gave little away on what is an excellent pitch on which to bat once the batsman gets the pace of it. Whether he enjoys being Broad’s back-up is another matter.

Until the intervention of Smith and Haddin, England had stopped Australian ambition in its tracks. Brilliant work by Anderson ran out Chris Rogers with a direct hit in the second over and immediately there were overtones of Jonathan Trott and Adelaide three years ago. Broad then had Watson superbly caught by Swann, the catch taken over his head, and Michael Clarke chipped Swann’s second ball to Cook at short midwicket. When, after lunch, Swann also had David Warner, batting dangerously but recklessly at times, caught at backward point for 60 (Michael Carberry not making the mistake of Adelaide) and George Bailey was well caught by Kevin Pietersen at deep square leg off Broad, Australia were 143 for five. Then came Haddin. – Guardian Service

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