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Australia on the brink after Shane Watson sparkles

Monday, 16 December 2013 - 5:48pm IST | Agency: Reuters
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A dominant Australia were five wickets away from reclaiming the Ashes after hammering England with the bat and reducing them to 251 for five with the ball at the end of the fourth day of the third test at the WACA on Monday. Ben Stokes, who was 72 not out after scoring his maiden test half-century, and Matt Prior (7) will resume on Tuesday with the tourists still trailing by 252 runs and needing to bat through the final day to keep the series alive.

Shane Watson earlier smashed 73 runs off 40 balls for a spectacular century and George Bailey equalled the test record for most runs from a single over before Australia declared at 369 for three some 40 minutes before lunch. Requiring 504 runs for an unlikely victory, England's worst test session for a long time had not quite reached its nadir and Ryan Harris sensationally bowled Alastair Cook for a golden duck with the first ball of the innings. "To have a license to take on the game was a lot of fun," said all-rounder Watson, whose ballistic 103 included 11 fours and the five bludgeoned sixes. "We're confident. Absolutely. A good night sleep will freshen our bowlers up to be able to have a really good crack first thing in the morning.

"We have to bowl really well to give ourselves the best chance to be able to achieve a few dreams, for a lot of us who've been involved in the last few series especially." England, shell-shocked after Australia's morning assault, did at least slow down the home side's momentum after lunch with Michael Carberry (31), Joe Root (19) getting starts. Kevin Pietersen was also well set on 45 when, in a move unlikely to appease his critics, he strode down the wicket to take on spinner Nathan Lyon, sending the ball high into the sky but failing to clear Harris at the long-on boundary. Ian Bell's 99-run partnership with Stokes for the fifth wicket ended when the TV umpire determined his attempted uppercut had nicked a Peter Siddle delivery to Haddin for 60. "We're still hanging in there, and that's the important thing. We need to take tomorrow as deep as we possibly can, keep showing some fight," said Bell.

"We need the two guys who are out there now to take it to lunch. We've just got to keep on fighting." It was the morning of intense drama and some high farce, though, that put Australia on firmly track for a victory that would give them an unassailable 3-0 series lead and ensure the return of the urn. The hosts resumed 369 runs ahead at 235 for three and Watson, who started the day on 29, signalled his team's intent with two fours and a six off the first over from spinner Graeme Swann.

Watson has struggled to convert 50s into centuries but there seemed little doubt he would do so on Monday as three sixes and a four off another Swann over took him from 60 to 82. England were left cursing their luck when Tim Bresnan caught Watson on 90 only to tumble over the boundary rope and the Australian soon captured his fourth test century with a clipped four to fine leg.

Watson's departure for 103 was as remarkable as his sparkling innings. Bell waited for an age for a skied ball to come down only to drop it but Watson, not expecting the error, had stopped running and a quick-witted Bresnan ran him out at the non-striker's end. "It wasn't good was it?" laughed Watson. "I'm not going to enjoy watching that until the day I die." Despite a string of dropped catches and some schoolboy fielding, England did manage to dismiss Steve Smith (15) and Haddin (five) but Bailey continued to punish the bowling. When he blasted a record-equalling 28 off six James Anderson deliveries to reach 39 not out and take Australia's lead past the 500-mark, captain Michael Clarke called his players in.

Bailey's 4,6,2,4,6,6 matched West Indies great Brian Lara's 4,6,6,4,4,4 off South African Robin Peterson in the Johannesburg test in the 2003-04 season. "We've had quite a few bad experiences against Jimmy Anderson over the last three series I've been involved in so it's always nice to have the shoe on the other foot," said Watson. The punishment was not over for England, though, and Harris produced a peach of a ball to remove Cook's off bail, the first time the England captain had been dismissed by the first ball he faced in his 100 tests.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Pritha Sarkar)


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