Alastair Cook and Ian Bell gave England supporters a glimpse of the future on the fourth day of the third Test, and it looked pretty good. Against the best attack in cricket the pair batted with composure, skill and defiance in an attempt to keep the Ashes alive.
Cook scored his fourth Test hundred before edging Glenn McGrath to Adam Gilchrist 15 minutes before the close, and two balls later McGrath ripped Matthew Hoggard's off-stump out of the ground with a wonderful yorker, spoiling what had been an excellent day for England.
Bell had fallen earlier for a quite superb 87. The 24-year-old played Shane Warne with aplomb, smashing the legendary leg-spinner back over his head for two sixes during an absorbing morning session. Kevin Pietersen then reaffirmed his class with an unbeaten 37. Everyone knows what an astonishing player Pietersen is but it was satisfying to see him adapt his game. Like Bell and Cook, Pietersen will be playing for England for much of the next decade.
England began the fourth day on 19 for 1, still requiring 538 runs to win. In the modern game records are broken with alarming frequency but reaching this target would be the most remarkable achievement . The most successful run chase in Tests came in May 2003 when West Indies reached 418 for 7 against a Warne-less Australia in Antigua.
Yet thoughts of reaching this goal, or at least a draw that would keep the series alive, would have surfaced among romantic England supporters while Bell and Cook were together. The pair were magnificent in the morning, repelling everything thrown at them. Each was solid in defence but not afraid to take the game to the opposition.
Warne was given an early bowl and his duel with Bell was compelling. In Warne's first over Bell skipped down the pitch and struck him over mid-off for four. Then, a couple of deliveries later, the right-hander repeated the shot, only this time the ball landed in the seats at the front of the Prindiville Stand. Bell launched another straight six before lashing through extra cover for four to reach his fifty.
Cook was more comfortable against the quicker bowlers. As an opening batsman he is bound to be. After all, it is what he has faced for most of his career. But his technique against spin needs to improve, as it will working with Duncan Fletcher, the England coach.
Cook stabs at the ball with hard hands in defence, a method that would result in the ball carrying to a close fielder should it be edged on to a pad. But he makes up for such shortcomings with determination and application. Warne recognised this, shaking his hand when he reached three figures.
Bell struggled against Warne in the 2005 Ashes and he has obviously spent time working on his play against slow bowlers. The 24-year-old plays spin with soft hands and the ball dies when it hits his bat. The technique reduces the chance of a close catch.
Bell's towering sixes highlighted how his confidence has grown but his best strokes were on-drives that pierced the gap between mid-on and mid-wicket. Warne retired to the changing room having conceded 41 runs in eight overs.
As all great performers do, he came back at Bell after the interval, spinning the ball sharply past his outside edge on numerous occasions. The deliveries encouraged the bowler to exchange the occasional pleasantry, a sure sign that Bell was winning the battle.
Bell was given a life on 73 when Adam Gilchrist grassed a low, diving catch off Brett Lee. Then Warne, after a 19-over spell, asked Ricky Ponting for one more over. The captain obliged and the request brought Australia a wicket when Bell drove the final ball of Warne's 20th over to Justin Langer at short extra cover.
The joy and relief were clear to see. Cook was then dropped at slip off the spin of Andrew Symonds on 83, before Paul Collingwood edged a beauty from Stuart Clark to Adam Gilchrist. The arrival of Pietersen added edge to proceedings, but Cook was still struggling with Warne. He reached his hundred off his 257th ball, however, a feat acknowledged by all at the WACA.
The second new ball was taken and Warne conceded his 100th run, much to the amusement of the Barmy Army, but then McGrath returned to take two crucial wickets. Great players do great things when it counts. Ponting did it in Brisbane, Warne in Adelaide, Gilchrist with the second-fastest Test hundred on Saturday. McGrath, briefly, did it yesterday.
Fourth Day: How They Rated
ALASTAIR COOK: Four Test hundreds, and still only 21. 9
IAN BELL: Proof that he has expelled the demons of Shane Warne. 9
KEVIN PIETERSEN: The game moves to a new level when he walks out. 6
PAUL COLLINGWOOD: Unlucky to nick a "jaffa" from Stuart Clark. 4
BRETT LEE: Bowled with pace and control. Deserved better. 6
GLENN MCGRATH: Two late wickets will keep him his place in Melbourne. 6
STUART CLARK: His McGrath-ness is becoming unerring. 7
SHANE WARNE: Barmy Army baited him, but he could have the last laugh. 7
ANDREW SYMONDS: Gave Warne a rest and created half-chances. 5
Shot of the Day
They say the on-drive is the hardest shot to play. Ian Bell played a couple off Shane Warne that were exemplary. They split the field and ran away forÊfour, and his partnership with Alastair Cook had Warne confounded for half the day.
Ball of the Day
Poor old Paul Collingwood. He waits for hours to bat and then gets an unplayable delivery when he finally gets in. The leg-cutter from Stuart Clark that found his outside edge would have troubled any batsman in the world.
Moment of the Day
Warne teased Alastair Cook when he was on 99. He made him wait for each ball, putting him under even greater pressure. But Cook got there when he nudged a single into the leg side. Well played, young man, with yet another masterful century.
Debate of the Day
Why didn't England bat like this in their first innings? Pressure. Nobody expected England to bat for two days, or score 557. Therefore the pressure was less than on Friday, when England had a chance of taking control of the game.
Australia won toss
Australia - First Innings 244 (M E K Hussey 74no; M S Panesar 5-92, S J Harmison 4-48).
England - First Innings 215 (K P Pietersen 70).
Australia - Second Innings
(Friday: 119 for 1)
J L Langer b Hoggard 0
1 min, 1 ball
M L Hayden c Collingwood b Panesar 92
252 min, 159 balls, 12 fours
*R T Ponting c Jones b Harmison 75
164 min, 128 balls, 10 fours
M E K Hussey c Jones b Panesar 103
224 min, 156 balls, 12 fours
M J Clarke not out 135
251 min, 164 balls, 17 fours, 1 six
A Symonds c Collingwood b Panesar 2
9 min, 6 balls
ÝA C Gilchrist not out 102
103 min, 59 balls, 12 fours, 4 sixes
Extras (lb15 w2 nb1) 18
Total (for 5 dec, 504 min, 112 overs) 527
Fall: 1-0 (Langer) 2-144 (Ponting) 3-206 (Hayden) 4-357 (Hussey) 5-365 (Symonds).
Did not bat: S K Warne, B Lee, S R Clark, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Hoggard 20-4-85-1 (7-2-21-1, 7-2-20-0, 4-0-19-0, 2-0-25-0); Flintoff 19-2-76-0 (3-1-13-0, 5-0-10-0, 3-1-13-0, 2-0-9-0, 6-0-31-0); Harmison 24-3-116-1 (6-1-24-0, 7-1-19-1, 5-1-15-0, 4-0-34-0, 2-0-24-0); Panesar 34-3-145-3 (10-1-29-0, 3-0-6-0, 13-1-57-1, 6-1-23-2, 2-0-30-0); Mahmood 10-0-59-0 (nb1 w2) (2-0-12-0, 4-0-21-0, 4-0-26-0); Pietersen 5-1-31-0 (3-1-20-0, 2-0-11-0).
Progress: Third day: 150: 184 min, 43.3 overs. 200: 249 min, 58 overs. Lunch: 220-3 (Hussey 43, Clarke 3) 63 overs. 250: 299 min, 70.4 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 295-3. 300: 349 min, 81.2 overs. 350: 383 min, 88 overs. Tea: 357-4 (Clarke 73) 89.3 overs. 400: 430 min, 99.1 overs. 450: 466 min, 106.3 overs. 500: 485 min, 109.1 overs. Declaration at 6.24pm.
Hayden's 50: 123 min, 77 balls, 8 fours. Ponting's 50: 112 min, 85 balls, 7 fours. Hussey's 50: 120 min, 93 balls, 6 fours. 100: 214 min, 148 balls, 12 fours. Clarke's 50: 111 min, 76 balls, 5 fours, 1 six. 100: 174 min, 130 balls, 13 fours, 1 six. Gilchrist's 50: 64 min, 40 balls, 8 fours. 100: 99 min, 57 balls, 12 fours, 4 sixes.
England - Second Innings
(Overnight: 19 for 1)
A J Strauss lbw b Lee 0
3 min, 4 balls
A N Cook c Gilchrist b McGrath 116
390 min, 290 balls, 9 fours
I R Bell c Langer b Warne 87
234 min, 163 balls, 8 fours, 1 five, 2 sixes
P D Collingwood c Gilchrist b Clark 5
48 min, 36 balls
K P Pietersen not out 37
118 min, 80 balls, 4 fours
M J Hoggard b McGrath 0
2 min, 2 balls
*A Flintoff not out 2
12 min, 6 balls
Extras (b4 lb3 w6 nb5) 18
Total (for 5, 406 min, 96 overs) 265
Fall: 1-0 (Strauss) 2-170 (Bell) 3-185 (Collingwood) 4-261 (Cook) 5-261 (Hoggard).
To bat: ÝG O Jones, S I Mahmood, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Lee 19-3-49-1 (nb1) (9-2-20-1, 6-0-15-0, 4-1-14-0); McGrath 20-5-50-2 (nb4 w1) (8-2-22-0, 8-2-16-0, 4-1-12-2); Clark 17-5-31-1 (6-3-9-0, 3-1-4-0, 5-1-10-1,3-0-8-0); Warne 31-4-100-1 (24-2-90-1, 5-1-9-0, 2-1-1-0); Symonds 9-1-28-0 (w5) (1-0-1-0, 4-0-13-0, 4-1-14-0).
Progress: Third day: close: 19-1 (Cook 7, Bell 9) 6 overs. Fourth day: 50: 88 min, 19 overs. Lunch: 99-1 (Cook 37, Bell 54) 34 overs. 100: 149 min, 34.2 overs. 150: 220 min, 52.3 overs. Tea: 180-2 (Cook 80, Collingwood 4) 65 overs. 200: 302 min, 72.5 overs. New ball taken after 83.1 overs at 230-3. 250: 372 min, 89.5 overs.
Cook's 50: 178 min, 129 balls, 7 fours. 100: 335 min, 257 balls, 8 fours. Bell's 50: 131 min, 83 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R E Koertzen (SA).
TV replay umpire: S J Davis.
Match referee: J J Crowe.