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Match Coverage

Australia on the brink of Ashes victory as England lose top four

Will Macpherson by Will Macpherson
@willis_macp 5 minute read

England’s defeat was delayed by rain on Day 4 but Australia piled on the pain. Will Macpherson reports from the WACA in Perth.

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England have lived to fight another day, in part because of rain. In Perth. What a world.

They have six wickets standing (but none of their top four), and perhaps a bit more rain too, to get through that day and keep the Ashes alive. With that set of batsmen against this set of bowlers (what a set of bowlers), it all feels rather unlikely. They are still 127 runs behind.

Still, they got Steve Smith out. The difference between Smith and his opposite number, Joe Root, is pretty damn stark right now. Smith carved out a fluent, special 239 across three days here, without a chance offered, then was given out lbw on review. Everyone in the ground was surprised. In this series he has the slowest of his 22 Test centuries, and now the quickest, too. He is a master of playing the situation, and adapting on the job.

Ah, playing the situation. Poor Joe did not play the situation. There were 60 overs remaining in the day and 150 in the match when England began batting for a second time. Josh Hazlewood dismissed both openers, with Alastair Cook’s woeful run ended by a quite brilliant diving one-handed caught and bowled. England were in strife and Root needed to, er, play the situation.

Instead, having looked comfortable enough against the seamers, Root had a huge yahoo at a full, wide, non-turner from Nathan Lyon – Lyon’s actual first ball – and was caught at slip via Tim Paine’s glove. Root is feeling too much pressure not to betray his disappointment, so was not in any state to go full Broad 2013 and try to fool the umpire. Off he trudged, distraught.

When Root played that shot, the man at the other end was James Vince. It looked, to be honest, like a shot Vince would play. Of all the many things Lyon said before the series, the most prescient might just have been that Root underestimates him. This was indeed the shot of a man underestimating his opponent; the story has looked the same all series.

Vince, meanwhile, was playing beautifully, with 11 fours in a lovely half-century, his second of the series and one that has probably saved him from the chop – the permanent chop – ahead of Melbourne. And than came the ball, from Mitchell Starc. “If I faced that another 20 or 30 times I think it would get me out every time,” said Vince.

This thing – flung down from round the wicket, very wide of the crease – deviated three degrees off a crack, which by the time it took Vince’s off-stump out of the ground, amounted to 42cm of movement. Vince stood there, disbelieving, as Starc, also disbelieving, shouted in his face. The batsman was playing across the line, but playing straight would not have saved him. A lovely innings had been cut short by something very special. Geoffrey Boycott might say he would have kept it out, but we’re not buying that.

Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, variously the saviours and the men to blame for England’s first innings fightback or collapse (depending on who you listen to), got the tourists to the rain, which soon became stumps. They had not faced 21.4 of the 60 overs they had been promised.

That they had been promised 60 overs was down to Tim Paine and Pat Cummins, who kept the pain coming after a sprightly opening to the day which saw England lop off the centurions, and Mitchell Starc in hilarious fashion too. James Anderson, who has bowled superbly almost all series, saw off both Mitchell Marsh (second ball of the day) and Smith lbw, with both reviews going England’s way, then Paine ran out Starc as England tried another Australian review.

But this Australian team keeps coming at you, a point epitomised by Cummins’ batting. He made his third score in the forties this series from No.9. England’s Nos.7 to 11 have made two scores in the forties between them. He has 53 more runs this series than Cook, who has had two extra knocks. After they’ve kept you in the field into a seventh session and a 180th over for the highest Ashes total ever in Australia, with the eighth wicket worth a galling 93, they snaffle catches like Hazlewood’s and bowl balls like Starc’s. And that’s why they’re about to win the Ashes.

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