Australia reclaim the Ashes with WACA win
PERTH, (Reuters) – Australia faltered for pretty much the first time in the series trying to close the deal but rallied to blow away the last vestiges of English resistance and reclaim the Ashes with a third emphatic test victory today.
Just three months after England wrapped up a third successive Ashes series triumph by a similarly dominant 3-0 margin back home, Australia had wrested back the urn they last held in August 2009 with two matches to spare.
Ben Stokes had made them sweat through the first session on the fifth and final day of the third test at the WACA by completing his maiden test hundred as the tourists chased their improbable victory target of 504.
But once the lefthander was dismissed for 120 in the third over after lunch, Australia’s bowlers ran quickly through the England tail to claim a 150-run victory and an unassailable 3-0 series lead.
Fittingly, it was Mitchell Johnson, whose fiery spells of pace bowling had turned the first two tests, who delivered the coup de grace by dismissing James Anderson to end England’s second innings for 353.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” said captain Michael Clarke, the only member of the Australia team to have previously enjoyed Ashes success.
“What an amazing performance not just throughout this test match but over the course of three test matches. I think we put a lot of work in over a long period of time and we got the Ashes back.
“I don’t think you’ll find one bloke in that dressing room who won’t say that this is the pinnacle,” he added. “Playing test cricket against England and winning the Ashes. That’s always been the pinnacle for Australian cricketers.”
Steve Smith was named Man of the Match after his innings of 111 in the first innings, the sixth by an Australian in the three tests so far.
That Stokes’s hundred was the first by an Englishman in the series and helped his country to their highest innings total in the three tests said much about why the tourists have been outplayed so comprehensively.
“The simple fact of the matter is we haven’t had enough players in form with either bat or ball,” said England skipper Alastair Cook, who admitted his 100th test was the low point of his career.
“You can’t put it any more honest than that, and people in the dressing room know that. It hurts like hell when you come into a contest and you end up being second best.”
England had resumed on 251 for five requiring another 253 runs for an extraordinary victory or more likely needing to bat through the final day to save the test.
The yawning cracks that had opened up on the sunbaked wicket added an extra danger factor for the batsmen, with one Ryan Harris delivery to Stokes jagging off into the slips.
Lefthander Stokes, who made his debut in the second test in Adelaide, showed great concentration and no little courage to help England to their biggest innings score of the series.
Johnson, who finished with figures of four for 78, made the breakthrough when Matt Prior took a swipe at a widish delivery and got a nick on it to be caught behind for 26.
Two overs later and Stokes, who had edged his way nervously through the 90s, pulled Johnson to the long-leg for four to reach his hundred, pumping his fist in celebration.
England made it through to lunch at 332-6 but their task always looked too tough and when Stokes was brilliantly caught by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin off spinner Nathan Lyon the end was in sight.
“Every time we got a partnership going or a few wickets with the ball, Australia always responded better than what we could deal with,” said Cook.
“You have to give a lot of credit to how Australia played in those circumstances and throughout the three games. They’ve been very ruthless with us. When they had a sniff, they’d taken their chances. And when they had us down, they kept us down.”
Graeme Swann (four) and Tim Bresnan (12) went in consecutive overs and there was just one more over of England’s innings before Johnson claimed his 23rd wicket of the series.
“It was pretty hard bowling. The emotions were flying and just trying to keep them in check. It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Johnson.
“I came back from injury and I had a lot of doubters I knew. I did all the hard work and I had the opportunity and I took it with both hands.
“It means a lot to finally win the Ashes after being part of a couple we lost, so it was very special.”
Australia won the first test in Brisbane by 381 runs and the second in Adelaide by 218 runs and will now be targeting a 5-0 sweep in the final two tests in Melbourne and Sydney.
“I’m not looking at it tonight, I can guarantee you that,” said Clarke.
“I think it’s very important that we celebrate together tonight and enjoy this feeling … but I can guarantee you there won’t be any complacency.”