David Warner and Michael Clarke scored dominant centuries to put Australia firmly in control of the first Ashes Test yesterday and leave England needing an unlikely 537 for victory at the end of day three at the Gabba.
The hosts declared their second innings at 401 for seven an hour before stumps, and compounded their advantage by removing Michael Carberry and Jonathan Trott cheaply to leave England clinging on at 24 for two with two days to play.
England would need to better the best-ever fourth innings run chase in Test cricket by 143 runs to get the 561 runs for victory, but more realistically will look to dig in and hope the rainstorms forecast for Brisbane materialize.
Barring a 15-minute rain delay before lunch, the weather failed England yesterday and the day instead belonged to belligerent opener Warner and his cultured captain.
Put in the driving seat when their bowlers dismissed the tourists for 136 at the Gabba on Friday, the pair gleefully grasped the controls and raced away from England in a 158-run partnership for the third wicket.
Warner hammered 124 off 154 balls for his fourth Test century and first against England, while Clarke’s 113 came off 130 balls for the 25th hundred of his career and sixth in the Ashes.
“England are on the back foot,” Warner said. “It does look like they’ve got scared eyes at the moment.
“The way that [Jonathan] Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak. Obviously there’s a weakness there and we’re on top of it at the moment,” he added.
Such days have been rare in a miserable year for Australia, who failed to win a single Test in back-to-back series defeats in India and England, and the packed house at the Gabba reveled in the summer sunshine.
Australia had resumed on 65 without loss, but Chris Rogers was gone, caught at point from Stuart Broad’s first delivery, before Warner had the five runs he needed for his half-century.
That was clearly never the extent of Warner’s ambition, though, and with Clarke having weathered an early storm of short bowling and looking settled at the other end, he moved inexorably toward the first century of the match.
He had a nervous moment in the last over before lunch when England referred a failed appeal for LBW to the TV umpire, but the replay showed Graeme Swann’s delivery missed his front pad and clattered into the bat.
There were another nervous few moments on 99 before Warner found a gap in the covers for two runs off the bowling of Joe Root, the England player he infamously punched in a Birmingham bar before the first Ashes series of the year.
“A lot of credit goes to our bowlers for the way they came out yesterday and dictated for the rest of the guys to come out today and play,” Warner said. “It was fantastic to get a partnership out there with [Clarke] and put us in a great position.”
Warner continued in the same vein after passing the milestone, but three balls after smashing Broad for his only six over the bowler’s head, he nicked behind and the Englishman had his revenge.
Clarke, meanwhile, passed 1,000 runs at the Gabba and pushed his team’s lead past 400 with a four off Broad, before punching the ball through the onside for a couple of runs to claim his fifth century at the ground.
Off-spinner Swann ended up with figures of two for 135 after taking some serious punishment from Warner and Clark, including 16 runs in one particularly miserable over.
He did get a measure of retribution, though, by tempting Clarke into stepping out, only to miss the line for an ignominious dismissal the Australia skipper’s innings did not deserve.
England also got the wickets of opener Chris Rogers (16), Shane Watson (6) and Steve Smith (0) cheaply, but debutant George Bailey joined in the run spree with two sixes in his 34.
Brad Haddin, who made 94 in the first innings in his 50th Test match, inflated the score with a 55-ball 53 and Mitchell Johnson pitched in with an unbeaten 39 as even England’s vaunted fielding lost its way.
While Carberry was unfortunate to guide a Ryan Harris delivery between his own legs and onto the stumps for a duck, Trott’s decision to attack the short ball looked almost suicidal and resulted in him holing out in the deep for nine.
Kevin Pietersen, who almost ran Alastair Cook out on the first ball he faced, had reached three not out at the close of play with his captain set to resume on 11.
“What we’ve got in abundance in our dressing room is fight and character, we’ve shown that in the past, and we’ve just got to keep scrapping as hard as we can,” fast bowler James Anderson said.
“We know it’s a long series and if we do lose this match we’re going to go down fighting, that’s just the way we play our cricket,” he added.