It was merely an extension of their fine performances in the first two tests at Brisbane and Adelaide that culminated in the series win for Australia. Now they are on the verge of handing England a complete whitewash with the next test commencing on the Boxing Day at the MCG and the final one on January 3 at Sydney. It has been a great series, thus far, from the Australian viewpoint with contributions coming from the entire team. Making his little speech at the match-end ceremony, Michael Clarke said that the team felt exactly as England team might have felt in England last summer. He had a special word of praise for Mitchell Johnson, who accounted for Tim Bresnan and Jimmy Anderson to polish off the tail and finish with 4 wickets in the second innings. But Clarke added that lot of credit goes to others as well, including people, who worked behind the scene.
Chasing 504 in the fourth innings was always going to be difficult for England. With skipper Alistair Cook having been clean bowled on the first ball of the second innings and Pietersen departing to make it 121/4, England found themselves in a grim situation. But Ian Bell and Ben Stokes rekindled hopes of a historical miracle. It was just the second test match for Stokes and but for him, Australia would have won the game and wrapped up the Ashes series much earlier.
Just as in the first two tests, the Aussies kept England in a tight noose in every department of the game. On Monday, George Bailey exhibited his murderous batting skills by hitting Jimmy Anderson for 28 runs in just the one over. Bailey, who had scored just 11 off the first 24 balls that he faced until then, suddenly cut loose. Beginning with some luck and a thick first-ball cut, which sailed over the slips to the ropes, Bailey hit the next five deliveries with great authority in scoring 6, 2, 4, 6, and 6. Bailey could have gone on further with gay abandon if Michael Clarke had not chosen to declare the innings at the end of the fateful Anderson over. Unknowingly, Bailey equaled Brian Lara’s 10-year old record of most runs in an over. Bailey was merely complying with the need of the hour, where Australia could declare after setting sizeable fourth innings target for England. Earlier, in trying to enhance the lead for Australia, Shane Watson blasted a 108-ball 103 with 11 fours and 5 sixes. Watson played instinctively and was particularly severe on Swann as the hapless bowler was clobbered for 37 runs in 13 balls that Watson faced from England’s no.1 spinner. Watson’s innings came to a comical end when he skied a pull shot, which Ian Bell floored. Tim Bresnan was the bowler, who in his anger threw down the stumps down with the dropped ball. Watson had wandered out of his crease and was declared run out.
Even as the three-test old George Bailey responded to the call for quick runs, instead of trying and cementing his place in the team, there was another debutant on the other side. Ben Stokes was playing only his second test match but he performed like a veteran. Watching and assessing him from the other end, Ian Bell was mightily impressed. Bell said in a genuine praise of the young man that Stokes holds a huge promise of a great all-rounder for English cricket in the days to come. After collecting two wickets in Australia’s second innings, Stokes showed his great capability as a solid batsman. He went on to score a century studded with 18 fours and dealt with the bowling with maturity, not often seen in one so young. Stokes’ batting performance was especially remarkable since England was pushed on the back-foot in trying to save defeat. A bit of frustration crept into the Australian camp as Bell and Stokes settled down even as the situation looked hopeless for England. They regarded Ryan Harris as just another bowler by hitting him at will. Bell was graceful and ever so organized and Stokes flourished in Bell’s company. The two batmen played without a care in the world before Bell perished to real-time Snicko, after umpire had declined an appeal for caught behind.
But Stokes continued in the company of Matt Prior with an elegant stroke play. He displayed great character while driving fluently with a straight bat and when he pulled an odd ball, he knew where the shot was going. Even after Prior was out at 296, Stokes didn’t give up. He reached within a striking distance to his first century in tests by hitting two consecutive fours off two Johnson deliveries and then reached the coveted milestone by a delectable glance to the fine leg boundary. This was the first century from any English cricketer in the ongoing series and a just the third one at Perth since 1987.
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