England conceded their bowling flaws were terribly exposed as Steven Smith and Mitchell Marsh’s relentless batting on the third day of the third Test in Perth on Saturday (December 16) left the visitors praying for rain to salvage their Ashes hopes.
Australia were 549 for 4 in their first innings by stumps, with Smith on 229 and Marsh on 181, having seized total control to lead England by 146 runs with six wickets still in hand.
It was a horrendous day for the England, who must win or draw in Perth to keep alive their hopes of retaining the urn, but claimed just one wicket all day at a cost of 346 runs.
Paul Farbrace, the England assistant coach, said the weaknesses in the English attack, particularly in foreign conditions, were being cruelly exposed.
“I don’t think we’ve learned anything from today that we didn’t already know,” he said in a sobering assessment of the English bowling unit. “We don’t have that extra pace — we knew that coming into that series — and we haven’t got the highest quality of magical spin.
“Our bowlers have been very honest … we’ve got what we’ve got, what can we do? There is nothing that has surprised us.”
Farbrace said Craig Overton, the rookie seamer, was being hampered by a “cracked rib”, and also conceded the match turned when England lost their last six wickets for just 35 runs in their first innings to squander a potentially huge total.
However, he wouldn’t concede the Ashes defence was over. Australia lead the series 2-0 and can regain the Ashes with victory at the WACA Ground, with England’s hopes of staying alive in the five-match series seemingly resting with the local weather. Heavy rain is forecast for the fourth day, but is not predicted to arrive until late in the afternoon, reducing the chances of a draw.
England’s bowlers could not trouble Smith, who notched his second Test double-century as he batted all day for his highest Test score, and passed 1,000 runs in the calendar year. Mitchell Marsh answered his critics to post his maiden Test ton on his home ground.
Farbrace conceded the English were almost powerless to stop Smith in his current form. “We’ve tried all sorts, we’ve thought about our plans to him for some time, but we’ve come up against a player in the form of his life playing absolutely fantastically,” he said.
Smith and Marsh dominated the flagging England attack to put on an unbroken stand of 301 for the fifth wicket without even offering a single chance. It is the highest partnership for Australia against England at the WACA. Joe Root, the England captain, even turned to the part-time leg-spin of Dawid Malan late in the day in search of a desperately needed breakthrough, to no avail.
Resuming on 92, Smith reached his 22nd Test hundred early in the day from the 138th ball he faced, his quickest Test century in terms of balls faced. Coming in his 107th Test knock, only Don Bradman (58 innings) and Sunil Gavaskar (101 innings) have reached 22 Test centuries in fewer innings.
He then reached his double-hundred from 301 balls, including 26 fours and one six, although he was content to milk easy singles against a defensive field as he reached the milestone.
Marsh came to the crease after the dismissal of his brother Shaun under huge pressure to perform after a contentious recall, and having dropped a simple catch and bowled poorly during the England innings. He started nervously but blossomed as his innings went on and notched his maiden Test century from the penultimate over before tea on his home ground, sparking scenes of jubilation from the crowd.
Marsh had faced 130 balls for his hundred and a number of powerful drives were a feature of his landmark Test innings. On the comeback trail after a major shoulder injury, Marsh admitted there were times during his rehabilitation that he feared his Test career was over.