PERTH: If this is Australia’s last taste of international cricket at the WACA, it is a sweet one. Steven Smith’s men regained the Ashes on the final day of the third Test against England, despite a controversial three-hour delay to the start of play caused by rain seeping into the pitch through the covers. If that was an inauspicious beginning for the WACA’s last day as an Ashes venue – and possibly as an international ground full-stop – the Australians cared little by the end of the day, with the urn back in their grasp.
England needed to bat close to 70 overs to have any chance of clinging on to the Ashes. They managed to hold on for less than half of that. It was hardly surprising, for the cracks on the pitch made batting really challenging; one delivery from Josh Hazlewood actually flew from a leg-stump line straight to first slip. So, not only were England struggling to find answers, it wasn’t always clear what questions would be asked of them.
Dawid Malan fought hard for 54 to add to his first-innings 140, but an Australian victory seemed only a matter of time. And if England leave the WACA with questions of their own regarding the state of the pitch on which they had to bat, it will not undo the result: an Australian win by an innings and 41 runs, and an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series. Hazlewood completed his first Ashes five-wicket haul, exploiting the conditions effectively, and England were dismissed for 218 before tea. All England can do now is prevent the kind of 5-0 clean sweep they suffered in 2013-14, and in 2006-07. On the basis of current form, it won’t be any easy task.
Regardless of what happened on the final day, this match was won by the monstrous triple-century partnership between Smith and Mitchell Marsh on the third day. They propelled Australia to 9 for 662, their highest total in a Test innings since Cardiff in 2009, but there was to be no repeat of Cardiff’s last-gasp draw for England. The final wicket fell when Chris Woakes tried to ramp Pat Cummins over the keeper’s head but succeeded only in feathering a catch through to Tim Paine. The Australian huddle was instantaneous, and jubilant.
There were times during the morning when they must have wondered if this moment would come. Heavy overnight rain in Perth had found its way through the covers and onto the pitch, leading to the farcical sight of the captains and umpires standing around in fine conditions as they watched the groundstaff use leaf blowers to dry the wet patches on the pitch. It had the potential to be a black swansong for the WACA – perhaps fittingly, for a ground in Western Australia – but play finally got under way at 1pm.
Hazlewood’s first delivery and the sixth of the day kept a fraction low and took Jonny Bairstow’s off stump. Later in the same over, the Australians thought they had Moeen Ali when he edged to second slip, where Smith scooped the ball up low to the ground. A soft not-out signal from the on-field umpires was enough to save Moeen, with the third umpire Aleem Dar unable to conclusively determine whether Smith had got his fingers under the ball.
Moeen and Malan settled in for a partnership that lasted 15.4 overs, but Moeen’s struggles against his fellow offspinner Nathan Lyon continued when he prodded tamely forward and was trapped lbw by a straight ball for 11. Malan was the key for England, the last recognised batsman, and he battled manfully before gloving an attempted pull through to Paine off the bowling of Hazlewood. From there, it was only a matter of time. Less than 10 overs, as it turned out.
Craig Overton, who had bravely played with a cracked rib during this match, was caught low at gully by Usman Khawaja off Hazlewood, who finished with 5 for 48, and Stuart Broad’s miserable series continued when he too gloved behind off Cummins. Woakes and James Anderson did their best to get through the extended session to the delayed tea break, but failed narrowly, handing the Ashes back to Australia.
For Smith’s men, this was the culmination of a three-Test sequence in which they have dominated England for the most part, and they can now head to Melbourne and Sydney with the aim of stamping their mark on Ashes history with another clean sweep. Whatever happens, they will never forget the WACA’s Ashes farewell. Agencies