A dominant Australia are five wickets away from reclaiming the Ashes after hammering England with the bat and reducing them to 251 for five with the ball at the end of the fourth day of the third Test yesterday at the WACA Ground in Perth, Australia.
Ben Stokes, who scored his maiden Test half-century and was 72 not out, was at the crease with Matt Prior, unbeaten on seven, but the tourists were still 252 runs behind and will need to bat through the final day to save the Test and keep the series alive.
Shane Watson earlier smashed 73 runs off 40 balls for a spectacular century and George Bailey equaled the Test record for most runs from a single over, before Australia declared at 369 for three about 40 minutes before lunch.
Requiring 504 runs for an unlikely victory, England’s worst Test session for a long time had not quite reached its nadir when Ryan Harris sensationally bowled Alastair Cook for a golden duck with the first ball of the innings.
After lunch, Michael Carberry made 31 before being adjudged leg before wicket off Watson’s bowling, while Joe Root scored 19 before he was brilliantly caught behind by Brad Haddin off Mitchell Johnson.
Kevin Pietersen was well set on 45 when, in a move unlikely to appease his critics, he strode down the wicket to take on spinner Nathan Lyon, sending the ball high into the sky, but failing to clear Harris at the long-on boundary.
Ian Bell put on 99 runs with Stokes for the fifth wicket, before an Australian challenge overturned a not out verdict.
Australia are firmly on track for a victory that would give them an unassailable 3-0 series lead.
The hosts resumed 369 runs ahead at 235 for three and Watson, who started the day on 29, signaled his team’s intent with two fours and a six off the first over from spinner Graeme Swann.
Watson has struggled to convert 50s into centuries, but there was little doubt he would do so yesterday as three sixes and a four off another Swann over took him from 60 to 82.
England were left cursing their luck when Tim Bresnan caught Watson on 90, only to tumble over the boundary rope and the Australian captured his fourth Test century with a clipped four to fine leg.
Watson’s departure for 103 was as remarkable as his sparkling innings, which included 11 fours and the five bludgeoned sixes.
Bell waited for an age for a skied ball to come down only to drop it, but Watson, not expecting the error, had stopped running and a quick-witted Bresnan ran him out at the non-striker’s end.
England dismissed Steve Smith (15) and Haddin (five), but Bailey kept punishing the bowling.
When he blasted a record-matching 28 off six James Anderson deliveries to reach 39 not out and take Australia’s lead past the 500-mark, captain Michael Clarke called his players in.
Harris then removed Cook’s off bail, the first time the England captain has been dismissed by the first ball he faced in 100 Tests.