Australia regained the Ashes on the fifth day of the third test in Perth, bowling England out in their second innings for 218, to win the match by an innings and 41 runs, in the process taking a decisive 3-0 lead in their five match series.
It was a triumph for Australian captain Steve Smith who not only oversaw the return of the prized urn to home shores but also put in a man of the match performance with the bat.
Before the match started, Australia brought in Mitch Marsh to join his brother Shaun in the side, with Peter Handscomb missing out, whilst England were unchanged. It was England who won the toss and decided to bat on a good batting pitch, albeit one that gave some help to the fast bowlers. And the three Australian pace men – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – were all on their game, consistently bowling above 90 mpg with plenty of short deliveries aimed at the English batsmen.
Alastair Cook, playing in his 150th test, was lbw to Starc for 7, and both James Vince (25) and Joe Root (20) were out caught behind. At the other end, Mark Stoneman had reached his 50 and survived both being dropped and having his helmet broken, when he was given out controversially by the third umpire, despite some inconclusive video evidence.
At that stage England were 131/4 and struggling, but then Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow came together. The pair survived a barrage of short balls, and gradually began to grow in confidence, playing attacking shots when the occasion merited it. Malan had some luck, surviving a run-out attempt from David Warner, and then being dropped by Cameron Bancroft off the first ball with the new ball when he had scored 92, but he went on to score his first test century. Meanwhile Bairstow proved to be a willing and able accomplice, reaching his own half century into the bargain.
By the close of play, the pair had put on 174 for the 5th wicket, with Malan 110 not out and Bairstow undefeated on 75. At 305/4 overnight, it had definitely been England’s day.
If the first day belonged to England, the second was undoubtedly Australia’s, with the highlights including a visitor batting collapse, and the home skipper nearing a century.
All that was in the future when Malan and Bairstow resumed, and the pair took the score to 368, and their partnership to 237, before Malan fell to Nathan Lyon for 140. That triggered a dramatic collapse as England lost their last 6 wickets in the space of 51 balls, for the addition of just 35 runs. There was still time for Bairstow to reach his 4th test century, but he became one of Starc’ s 4 wickets, as the Australian pace attack wrapped-up the English tail in double-quick time, with the tourists subsiding to 403 all out.
In reply, Australia began confidently with Warner and Bancroft, before both fell to the bowling of Craig Overton, Warner for 22 and Bancroft for 25. Usman Khawaga and captain Steve Smith then put on 124 runs for the third wicket before Khawaga was adjudged lbw to Chris Woakes having scored exactly 50. Smith, meanwhile, was in splendid form, and had moved within sight of another test hundred when stumps were reached, with Australia 203/3. Smith was 92 not out overnight, with Shaun Marsh undefeated on 7.
Saturday was the day that saw England’s hopes of retaining the Ashes not only disappear but be completely obliterated as Australia scored 346 runs for the loss of one solitary wicket, that of Shaun Marsh who was caught by Root off the bowling of Moeen Ali for 28.
That saw his younger brother Mitch come to the crease to join Smith, and the pair put on a batting masterclass, aided by an English attack which lacked genuine pace and bowled too many half-volleys.
Smith soon passed his century and pressed on, whilst Marsh began to catch his skipper on the score board. Both reached and then passed personal milestones, Smith scoring not only a double century, but also going past his previous Test best, whilst Marsh made his maiden test century and was eyeing a double ton of his own by close of play. Australia closed on 549/4, some 146 runs ahead of the tourists on first innings, with Smith unbeaten on 229 and Marsh with 181 to his name.
The fourth morning saw the English bowlers stage a fight back, even if it was too little, too late. First James Anderson had Marsh out off the second ball of the day without adding to his overnight score, and he then followed that up with the wicket of Smith lbw for 239. Starc was run out by Vince for a single, but Tim Paine and Cummins looked to push the score along, amidst concerns of bad weather forecast. The pair put on 83 for the 8th wicket before Cummins fell to Anderson for 41, and the Englishman took his fourth wicket of the day as he accounted for Lyon. At that stage Smith decided to declare on 662/9, giving Australia a lead on first innings of 259.
If England were to save the match they needed a solid start, but that was not to be as Stoneman edged Hazlewood behind for just 3, with the same bowler having Cook caught and bowled for a disappointing 14. Any hopes that captain Root would provide inspiration then disappeared as he wafted a catch to Smith off the bowling of Lyon. However, Vince was playing well at the other end, and the rain had also made an appearance, forcing the players off the field briefly.
When play resumed Vince had time to make his second test half-century before being bowled by Starc for 55 with a stunning delivery. That left the first innings heroes of Malan and Bairstow at the crease, and they were still there when the rain returned in earnest, forcing an early end to the day with England on 132/4. Malan was 28 not out and Bairstow was undefeated on 14.
The 5th morning’s play was delayed by a water-logged pitch, which gave early hope to the visitors that the weather might yet save them. However, when play did get underway, the Australian pace bowlers set about them with fiery, accurate bowling which proved too much for the English batsmen to handle.
Bairstow was the first to fall, bowled by Hazlewood without adding to his overnight score. Ali was lbw to Lyon for 11, and then Malan, who had battled to another half-century, was caught behind off Hazlewood for 54. The same bowler then got his 5th wicket of the innings by having Craig Overton, who was playing with a cracked rib, out for 12. That gave Hazlewood his first 5 wicket haul in Ashes tests.
It was left to Cummins to wrap up the innings, as he bowled Stuart Broad for a duck, with Woakes the last man to fall on 22.
The teams now head to Melbourne for the 4th test scheduled to start on Boxing Day.