Cricket: England crack under strain

By Chris Allen

Aussies on track to regain Ashes as batsmen clobber hapless attack.

A ground staff member places his hand in a crack on the WACA pitch. Photo / Getty Images
A ground staff member places his hand in a crack on the WACA pitch. Photo / Getty Images

England are probably hoping the ever-widening cracks in the WACA pitch will swallow them up after yet another Ashes hammering by Australia yesterday.

At tea the tourists laboured to 95-3 with four sessions remaining.

Australia had declared with a lead of 503 after the batsmen clobbered 134 runs in 17 overs and then celebrated the first-ball dismissal of England captain Alastair Cook.

Shane Watson scored a 106-ball century, Australia's seventh of the series, before his comical run out for 103, and George Bailey (39) plundered a world record 28 runs, including three sixes, in the last over from Jimmy Anderson before captain Clarke declared at 369-6.

England made a dire start with Ryan Harris bowling Cook for a golden duck and the top three were gone before tea.

After two big wins already, Australia are on track to regain the Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen (24) and Ian Bell (6) were batting together at the end of the middle session after Shane Watson trapped Michael Carberry (31) lbw to end a 62-run second-wicket stand and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin took a spectacular, diving catch after Joe Root (19) edged Mitchell Johnson to make the total 76-3.

The biggest successful fourth innings total is 418-7 by the West Indies against Australia at Antigua in 2003.

Australian opener Chris Rogers predicted England would face a scary time batting on a cracking WACA wicket.

Rogers was struck in the chest on Sunday when a Ben Stokes delivery deviated off a crack. The 36-year-old said England would face even more demons from the pitch when it came time for them to bat.

"If these cracks keep widening, then it's going to be very hard to bat on, and a little bit scary. It's hard to remember cracks like this."

Clarke and Cook are playing their 100th tests and their positions in the match and series couldn't be any more starkly different. Clarke has scored two of Australia's seven centuries so far, guided his team to comprehensive victories in Brisbane and Adelaide and is on the verge of reclaiming the old urn for the first time in four series. Cook, only four months after winning the Ashes 3-0 on home soil, is struggling with the bat, hasn't won a toss, and faces three consecutive test defeats for this first time in his reign.

Australia resumed on day four at 235-3 in their second innings and set the tone early, with Watson hitting 4-4-6 on the last three balls of the first over which was bowled by spinner Graeme Swann.

Following the example of David Warner, who scored 112 late on day three,Watson bullied an England attack missing key paceman Stuart Broad, who injured his right foot in England's first innings and couldn't bowl or field. He took 22 runs from one over against Swann and plundered five sixes and 11 boundaries but, after reaching his fourth century in 49 tests, he was out in strange circumstances. He skied a top edge and was caught well out of his ground when Bell dropped the catch and bowler Tim Bresnan regathered the ball and threw down the stumps at the non-strikers' end.

Steve Smith was out for 15 and Bailey faced 30 balls for his unbeaten 39, equaling Brian Lara's test record for most runs in a single over when he hammered 4-6-2-4-6-6 in a humiliating last over for Anderson.

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- AP

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