TWO captains came into this game celebrating the landmark achievement of 100 Test caps. At the end of a thrilling first day it looked odds-on that one of them would end the game with three things to be congratulated on, leaving the other with just the one – and in no mood for a party.
Michael Clarke made just 24 in the first innings, but his robust middle order eased Australia’s early nerves and turned the game firmly in their favour in a dominant final session. After stumps it was announced that Clarke had been named by the International Cricket Council as Player of the Year and, in the eyes of many observers, he is just a few days away from getting his hands on the Ashes.
Alastair Cook, meanwhile, was left with a lot to think about once again. When he took the catch off Graeme Swann to dismiss his counterpart and Stuart Broad followed up with the wicket of George Bailey, the hosts were rocking at 143 for five.
But Steve Smith, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson launched a brilliant counter-attack and made their way to a more than respectable 326-6.
England bowling coach David Saker lamented a missed opportunity afterwards, declaring: “We had them on the ropes and didn’t finish the job.”
The home truths England delivered among themselves after their hammerings in Brisbane and Adelaide appeared to be bearing fruit after two sessions of a burning hot day at the Waca. But three hours later, the only answer was yet more brutal honesty from Saker after Smith’s second Test hundred.
Smith (103 not out) tucked into England’s frazzled seamers as they dropped ever shorter in search of wickets to try to accelerate a contest they know they have to win to retain any chance of a fourth consecutive Ashes series success.
He completed his first Test hundred on home soil, after sharing a century stand with Haddin (55) and then combining with Johnson to add another 59 as England’s toiling attack flagged.
There was no certainty that the upshot was an above-par total for the hosts on a typically quick pitch at this venue – but after England’s fine start, Saker did not try to put a positive gloss on events.
“There’s no doubt we let it slip – and probably not for the first time this series,” he said. “We had them on the ropes and we didn’t finish the job.
“It’s partly down to the way they played with the bat [but] we didn’t deliver what we should have delivered today. The disappointing thing is I think we did chase wickets, and that’s probably one of the first times we’ve done that as a group for as long as I’ve been in charge.”
Saker also admitted England may have got their pace-bowling selection wrong. James Anderson and Tim Bresnan toiled through 38 overs between them without reward, and with taller quicks Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin all left out, Saker said: “Like everything, we make mistakes, like cricketers make mistakes.”