It all started so well on day two in Perth for the tourists. Alastair Cook certainly would have taken 385 as Australia’s first innings lead at the start of play, before himself and Michael Carberry led the chase at 79-0. However, as in tune with the rest of the series, Australia have found a way to fight back. Through a policy of attrition, Michael Clarke and his bowling unit leaked just 101 runs in 46 overs and took four wickets in the process. Kevin Pietersen wasn’t allowed to play fluently, eventually departing for 19 from over 90 minutes at the crease after a poor shot off Peter Siddle floated to mid-on. Australia have continually found ways to curb any English fight back, a trait that leaves them on the verge of their first Ashes series win since 2006/7. After being 143-5 in the first innings, Australia lasted another 69 overs and put on 242 valuable runs in that time. They remain able to source the ability to hurt England even when the big names of Clarke and Mitchell Johnson aren’t firing.
A long final hour finally came to an end with Ian Bell and Ben Stokes surviving the onslaught from a fired up Australian attack and England on 180-4. They are still 200 runs short of being in a position to win this Test and the contribution of England’s lower-middle order tomorrow is vital for any success. The majority of this responsibility lies with Bell. The Warwickshire batsman has been England’s in-form player over the past 12 months and repeatedly dug them out of batting holes during the home Ashes series. For his side to stand any chance of putting the pressure back on Australia, Bell must be at his very best tomorrow morning, especially against the new ball after an hour, and a 21st Test hundred may well be needed.
During Pietersen’s 59 ball 19 at the Waca today, he squirted one through the slips to third man and in doing so brought up his 8,000th run in Test match cricket. An impressive feat and one that has only been achieved by four other Englishmen before him, yet his form on this tour has come under heavily scrutiny after another batting failure. Starved of width and quick singles, Pietersen’s style was suffocated by a sound Australian ploy to limit his stroke-play. He eventually miscued to mid-on and trudged off leaving his side at 146-4 and staring further down the barrel of defeat. Pietersen’s average in this series stands at 24 compared to his career figure of almost 49. What is also of note is his strike-rate, more than 62 in his 101 Tests but less than 46 in Australia this year. For England to win series they need Pietersen at his best. It is no surprise that a failing Pietersen links to a failing England.
Joe Root came into the Perth Test as one of the few Englishmen in some batting form after his 87 in the second innings in Adelaide. However, the Yorkshire opener was left frustrated after more DRS issues, which plagued the series in England this summer, accounted for his wicket whilst on just nine. Given out caught behind off Shane Watson, Root immediately called for review. Hotspot showed no sign and the real-time Snicko proved inconclusive whether the bat had thinly grazed ball or pad. Root was sent packing despite no evidence to support the on-field decision. The old adage of giving the batsman the benefit of the doubt has all but faded since the introduction of technology and Root is the latest victim. In England’s long-shot bid to retain the Ashes they will need these marginal decisions to start falling their way.