Mercurial paceman Mitchell Johnson rediscovered his lost form to help Australia skittle England for 187 and wrest back the initiative on a pulsating second day of the third Ashes Test yesterday.
Swinging the ball into the right-handers at high pace, Johnson smashed through England’s top order. He then cleaned up the tail to finish with 6-38 in a brilliant return after he was dropped for the second Test in Adelaide following a wayward, wicketless display in the opener in Brisbane.
At the close Australia were 119 for three, an overall lead of 200. The hosts are battling to level the five-Test series and prevent England from becoming the first English team to take the Ashes home in 24 years.
“I didn’t really get too down on being dropped. Obviously I was disappointed at the time when I found out, but I knew I had to work on a few things and that’s what I did,” said Johnson, who spent two weeks toiling in the nets in a bid to find his groove between the Tests.
“I felt so good in those sessions that I had, and to go out there in the middle and to be able to do it was great,” he said.
After England raced to 78 without loss in reply to Australia’s 268, Johnson induced Alastair Cook (32) to miscue a drive straight to Michael Hussey at gully, then trapped Jonathan Trott for 4 and Kevin Pietersen LBW for a duck.
Johnson grabbed his third LBW by dismissing Paul Collingwood for 5 then celebrated his fifth and sixth wickets by bowling Chris Tremlett for 2 and getting James Anderson caught for a duck.
Ryan Harris finished with 3-59 after dismissing England captain Andrew Strauss for 52, Ian Bell (53) and Graeme Swann for 11.
The England pace bowlers struck back after their batsmen had conceded an 81-run lead.
Steve Finn removed Phillip Hughes for 12, coaxing a nick from the 22-year-old opener that went straight to Paul Collingwood’s safe hands at third slip.
He then had Ricky Ponting caught behind for 1 when the struggling Australia captain feathered a catch off his glove to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Ponting, who has not surpassed 12 runs in his past four innings, was given not out, but England successfully appealed the decision.
Michael Clarke smashed four boundaries in an aggressive 20-run cameo, but undid himself by chasing a Chris Tremlett delivery onto his stumps as Australia wobbled on 64-3.
Clarke’s dismissal brought the hosts’ serial rescuer Hussey to the crease and the 35-year-old left-hander proved rock-solid again, adding an unbeaten 24 in a 55-run stand with opener Shane Watson (61 not out).
The pitch which proved a handful for batsmen throughout the day after losing its teeth in the afternoon on Thursday, may yet provide enough movement to restrict Australia’s bid to level the series.
“[The pitch] has sort of quickened up now and it’s got a really nice bounce on it, so ... look, hopefully it’s going to favor us and we can perform well again on it,” Johnson said. “It’s probably different to the last couple of years, so I’m not really sure.”
Passions spilled over with several heated verbal exchanges in the middle as Australia’s bowlers peppered the English batsmen with bruising short-pitched deliveries.
“It’s an Ashes Test match. Both teams are desperate to win. We know our record as well at the WACA, so we’re desperate to make a bit of history here as well,” Bell said.