PERTH (Reuters) – Mike Hussey produced a sparkling century before Australia’s pace bowlers destroyed England’s top order to push the hosts to the brink of a series-levelling victory on day three of third Ashes Test in Perth yesterday.
Hussey’s 116, as his batting partners fell like dominoes, propelled Australia’s second innings to 309 and set England a mammoth 391-run chase with two days to play.
England lead the five-test series 1-0 and had hoped to seal the Ashes with a win in Perth, but they began their second innings poorly by losing five wickets after tea to limp to 81-5.
“We’ve bowled as a good team, the four quicks have all stuck together and bowled in their roles and done a good job,” paceman Peter Siddle told reporters.
“Hopefully we’ve put a little bit of damage into them at the moment after this match and see how they back it up for the next two tests.
“It’s just a matter of keeping them out in the field and batting for long periods of time and really tiring them out.” Paul Collingwood was dismissed for 11 with the last ball before stumps by Ryan Harris, the Englishman nicking an edge to all-rounder Steve Smith, who took a sharp catch in the slips.
Nightwatchman James Anderson was on zero at stumps as the last-ball wicket brought raucous cheers from home supporters on a day of brilliant sunshine at the packed WACA ground.
England’s highest successful fourth-innings run chase was the 332 they made to beat Australia in Melbourne in 1928. If they were to make 391 here, it would be the fifth largest run chase in tests.
“All you can do in these situations is believe,” said England fast bowler Chris Tremlett, who took career-best figures of 5-87 in Australia’s second innings.
“It’s obviously a long shot (to win) but it only takes one partnership and stranger things have happened. We’ll come in tomorrow believing that we can win the game.”
Pace bowler Harris struck first for Australia, trapping England opener Alastair Cook lbw for 13 with a quick, fuller delivery before Mitchell Johnson had captain Andrew Strauss caught by Australian skipper Ricky Ponting in the slips for 15.
After two days of fruitless toil, Ben Hilfenhaus celebrated his first wicket in the test by removing dangerman Kevin Pietersen for three, caught in the slips by Shane Watson.
Johnson picked up his second wicket of the innings when he had Jonathan Trott caught behind for 31, the ball deflecting off Ponting’s hands for wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to take the catch.
Ponting, who has had a dreadful series with the bat, injured a finger in the catch attempt.
“It’s clipped him on the little finger on the left hand, he’s a little bit sore at the minute, but he’s gone for a precautionary X-ray,” Siddle said. “He’s feeling upbeat, he’s feeling good, (he’s) just wanting to get it checked out but from all reports it seems all right.”
While Johnson’s six-wickets helped Australia skittle England for 187 in the first innings, Hussey’s latest contribution with the bat may prove equally important.
After pulling Tremlett for four to bring up his ton, the 35-year-old celebrated wildly, bolting halfway to the Lillee Marsh stand with arms aloft in celebration.
Hussey this week said he was one batting failure away from hanging up his gloves before the Ashes series, but now boasts 517 runs, his lowest score a 52 in the second test in Adelaide.
“Mike Hussey’s probably not a player you want to bowl too short to, and he showed that again today [yesterday], same as up in Brisbane when they attacked him with it and again here today [yesterday],” Siddle said.
Hussey had resumed on 24 with opener Watson on 61 after guiding Australia to 119-3 at stumps on day two.
The pair compiled a 113-run stand before Tremlett trapped Watson lbw five runs shy of his third test century.
Tremlett broke through again after lunch by having Smith (36) caught behind. Haddin then played on to Tremlett for seven.
Johnson was booed by English fans as he strolled to the crease and jeered when he squandered his wicket for one after driving Collingwood to Ian Bell at short cover.
Harris also lost his wicket for one, by skying a hook off Steve Finn to Bell.