Ruthless Australia regain the Ashes
Josh Hazlewood takes five as Australia secure series with an innings and 41-run victory
Andrew Ramsey at the WACA Ground
18 December 2017, 11:30 PM AEST
Australia's meticulously devised and artfully executed plan to retrieve the Ashes formally came to fruition mid-afternoon of a most tempestuous Perth day when they completed an innings win against an England outfit now staring at a series whitewash.
The manner in which the third Magellan Ashes Test ended at the WACA – when England's Chris Woakes was caught behind to hand the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-game series – highlighted the strategy that Australia had backed to win them the urn.
A short, fast delivery from Pat Cummins, part of the battery of fast bowlers primed specifically for this campaign, that has exploited frailties in the England batting order.
And which has provided a stark contrast to Australia's runs-scoring potential against a lacklustre touring attack, which highlights how tough it seems for the current England line-up to find a win in the remaining Tests at Melbourne and Sydney over Christmas and New Year.
Upon securing the final wicket, Steve Smith's team formed a tight group hug on the edge of the WACA wicket block which had been the focus of so much scrutiny earlier in the day, and which will never again host an Ashes Test.
But while the win, by an innings and 41 runs, produced a spontaneous moment of celebration it also came as something of an inevitability, such has been the gulf between the teams that was highlighted on day three of this Test when Australia piled on 346 runs for the loss of a single wicket.
After three hours lost to regular rain breaks and furious pitch salvage work, Hazlewood landed his first delivery – the fifth ball of the day – bang on the section of the pitch that became the centre of the cricket universe throughout that missing session and half.
The dread that Bairstow and his England teammates surely felt at being sent out on a track that was already leering with gaping cracks and now subject to a bout of spot soaking was reflected in the uncertainty of his response.
Unsure whether the patch that had felt soft and pliant for much of the morning had sufficiently dried and hardened, England's first innings century-maker propped hesitantly half-forward as if dreading what might happen next.
The result was not marked deviation of the seam as is often the case on soft pitches, nor did it rear dangerously from a length, fizz along the ground or explode in a shower of sparks.
Rather it hurried through off the surface, straightened just enough to beat Bairstow's bat and stayed down sufficiently for the sound of ball thudding into off-stump to be immediately drowned out by the hubbub of conspiracy.
It was not dissimilar in execution or result to the ball that James Anderson deployed to dismiss Mitchell Marsh, with 181 to his name but not yet set at the start of the day, on Sunday morning although meteorological events ensured the context was viewed as vastly different.
Suspicions that England's tail, already revealed to be about as resolute as sodden tissue paper, would capitulate at the rate of a wicket every few balls landed at the Damp Patch End were heightened when Australia felt they had a second breakthrough four deliveries later.
Having meekly fended a short delivery to slip to complete a second-ball duck in England's first innings, Moeen looked to have bagged an unwantedly similar double as Smith leaned forward to scoop up the edge from Hazlewood's bowling.
The Australia captain claimed the snare as a fair catch but Moeen justifiably stood his ground as the incident was replayed time and again before umpire Marais Erasmus's initial verdict of not out was upheld.
So Moeen survived trial by bouncer, only to succumb once again to the torment of spin as he fell – having survived for an hour during which he only escaped being run out by a whisker – to Nathan Lyon for the fifth time in six innings.
The sense of inevitability that England's all-rounder would become Lyon's prey heightened by the huge lbw appeal that Moeen survived the delivery prior to the one that brought his wicket, in disturbingly similar circumstances.
Australia then thought they were past England's allrounders and into the tailenders when Malan was trapped in front of his stumps by Hazlewood on 53, but their enthusiasm was rejected and their appeal for a video review struck down when it showed the ball had pitched outside leg stump.
However, there was no reprieve for Malan – who emerged from this Test as England's most accomplished batter with consecutive half centuries – in Hazlewood's next over when he feathered a catch behind in trying to swing a short ball behind square leg.
From there, the result and the possession of the urn was distilled down to a single variable – 'when?'.
The answer was revealed as 3.46pm after Woakes fell, trying to sneak a single and protect his number 11 James Anderson from the onslaught Australia's quicks were raining down to complete another lower-order collapse in which England lost 4-22.
Craig Overton bravely withstood a barrage from Australia's quicks that targeted his fractured rib and points above, but after clubbing successive boundaries from Hazlewood he became the seamer's fifth wicket when he was squared up and edged a catch to gully.
Stuart Broad's forgettable Test match ended with a suitably ignominious innings, caught behind for a four-ball duck in trying to fend off a fierce short delivery from Pat Cummins that flicked his batting glove before being snaffled by keeper Tim Paine.
Which was followed by an even more lethal ball from Cummins to which Anderson had no answer and as many clues, taking a frightening blow flush on the right side of his protective helmet that required replacing and halted the game – and Australia's victory surge – for several minutes.
For a while, on a morning in which frustration gave way to finger pointing, it seemed that day five might not host cricket at all.
The strength of the squalls that lashed the WACA first thing were captured in their full ferocity by cricket.com.au cameras, but the groundstaff copped a more prolonged battering during the unofficial inquest that played out in the absence of game time.
Had it taken too long to get the covers down when the second downpour hit on Sunday evening, or when the tempest arrived the following morning?
Had the umpires kept players on the field too long when it became clear the showers, forecast for Sunday since before the Test began last Thursday, were setting in?
Had the covers been incorrectly fitted amid the chaos created by the lashing gale and the sheeting rain, or had they lifted or leaked once in situ?
What was not up for argument was that the condition of the pitch was demonstrably different come the fifth morning than it had been when stumps were drawn on day four, and the impact of that change – perceived or real – was thus destined to overshadow the eventual result.
Throughout the morning session, these were the discussion points while ground staff armed with leaf blowers worked feverishly on a section at the pitch's southern end like teenagers trying to clean a post-party house before parents return from holidays.
In between dragging the hessian under-blanket and the heavier tarpaulin coverings on and off the playing surface with each new cloud that scooted in on the westerly and dumped fleetingly on the playing field and the scattering of patient spectators.
Amongst the shielding and drying, a procession of players, umpires, commentators and the curious wielding on-field accreditation prodded and pushed and ogled and debated the level of moisture that resided in a series of spots roughly on a length.
And when the umpires' revised starting times of 12 noon, then 12.40pm and ultimately one o'clock finally landed a result, it took just one delivery for the level of contention to be turned up a notch.
That was when Bairstow failed to impede Hazlewood's opening ball, the first of the day delivered into the damp, and Australia's path to the Ashes became instantly clearer than did Perth's weather.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
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Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
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