Friday, December 17, 2010

Johnson's six gives Australia advantage

An enthralling day of action moved the third Test along in fast forward at the WACA with Mitchell Johnson reviving his career and Australia's Ashes fortunes with a brutal 6 for 38 to dismiss England for 187. However, the home side didn't extend the advantage without further top-order failures as Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett caused problems although by stumps Shane Watson was unbeaten on 61 and the lead was 200.
After eight days of England dominance this one went comprehensively to Australia and how desperately they needed it. If the visitors had batted throughout the day the Ashes would have been hard to save, but by the close Australia's belief was being restored after the efforts of their most mercurial cricketer. Johnson's morning burst of 4 for 7 knocked the stuffing out of England's previously prolific line up. The whole feeling of the series changed with each booming inswinger and all ten wickets fell for 109.
Conceding an advantage of 81 on a lively surface left England playing catch-up, but they aren't without hope if the bowlers can leave a target under 350. In 2008-09, South Africa chased down 414 on the way to topping Australia's home record - after Johnson took 8 for 61 in the first innings - although that was a flatter surface.
England's quicks did their best to even the ledger during the final session. Phillip Hughes was worked over for the second time in the match before edging to third slip off Finn, who went for 14 in his first over but continued the knack of picking up wickets. His next was Ricky Ponting as his poor form continued with a glove down the leg side which was ruled out on review.
Michael Clarke began by pulling his first ball for four and added three more boundaries as he tried to impose himself on the attack with the bowlers overdoing the short balls. Clarke, though, paid the price for his approach when he dragged Tremlett into his stumps to leave Australia 3 for 64 and England scenting further evening inroads. But Watson played positively, latching onto to the loose deliveries, to reach another half-century and the run machine of Mike Hussey was setting another platform in a stand of 55.
The 81-run advantage Australia earned during the first two sessions could become priceless. After a Test and a half of churning out runs by the bucket load, England's batting subsided after a promising opening stand of 78. Johnson's introduction changed the complexion as rediscovered the swing which makes him such a deadly prospect when he's on song.
His hours in the nets since being dropped have clearly worked and he also rode on the confidence of his batting effort to produce a wonderful spell of 9-3-20-4, which included a burst of three wickets in 12 balls to crash through England's previously formidable top order. The scalping of Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, and Paul Collingwood were classic left-armer to right-hander dismissals as the batsmen were beaten by sharp movement.
Cook looked set to continue his prolific series before driving at a full delivery which shaped away, giving Hussey a low catch in the gully. Trott only lasted eight balls when Johnson beat a flat-footed drive with one that swung back into the right hander and would have taken off stump.
Pietersen's stay was even briefer as Johnson followed two off-stump deliveries with another inducker which struck the batsman in front of middle and leg. His request for a review was a waste. Initially, Collingwood was given not out when he was beaten by pace and swing, but Johnson persuaded Ponting to use a review and it proved the right call. Johnson returned in the afternoon to take out the final two wickets, shattering Tremlett's stumps and winning his duel with Anderson, and appeared a cricketer reborn.
He was well supported by his fellow quicks. Ben Hilfenhaus, who hasn't taken a wicket since the third ball of the series, deserved something but instead it was Ryan Harris who took the spoils, ending attractive half-centuries from Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell. Strauss was offered a life on 16 when Watson and Brad Haddin both left it to the other to hold an edge, but after reaching a positive fifty edged a good ball that climbed off a length.
No one in the England team, though, is playing better than Bell. He launched his innings with a perfect straight drive and showed outstanding composure to weather the initial Johnson storm. His timing remained perfect whenever the bowlers strayed in a display that showed how much he has developed since four years ago in Australia.
At stages some of Australia's tactics were curious, especially when they persisted with the short ball but the plan did bring Matt Prior's wicket. The ball after being hit on the shoulder by Peter Siddle, a ball struck his body, bounced back onto the glove and down onto leg stump. It was Siddle's first wicket since the opening day in Brisbane when he took six.
Graeme Swann offered solid support to Bell in a useful stand of 36 and received plenty of short stuff which he handled reasonably well. However, Harris returned the attack, after treatment on a minor calf problem, to find the edge and Bell felt he had to attack when he edge a booming drive which was superbly held by Ponting at second slip. Bell's departure guaranteed Australia a sizeable advantage and suddenly the Ashes series was back in the balance..

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