England's shock collapse does not detract from their overall superiority

Johnson produced a fine spell but Ponting and Clarke are still all at sea with the bat
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The Independent Online

Some may say that a mystical Australian renaissance has been blown in by the warm wind of the "Fremantle Doctor" but England simply required to keep their nerve in the early hours of this morning.

In fact, the third and, potentially, fourth days are most crucially about England and their ability to shake off the effects of the unexpected collapse of a middle order which, with the exception of Paul Collingwood, in the first two Tests was looking like one of the last words in impregnability.

The truth is that the new element in the balance of power which had tilted so far in favour of Andrew Strauss's team before the first ball of the third Test isn't new at all.

If the best side of Mitchell Johnson's split personality, as we saw at such length as an English summer, is a compelling spectacle indeed it is not something you would comfortably lay down as the foundation of a single Test match win let alone a full blown recovery of his team's competitive edge.

Today's hero, everyone should know by now, has a tendency to become tomorrow's shambles and if this sounds harsh in the wake of a brilliant piece of swing bowling it is not something Australia hasn't been saying since the road crash of his performance at Brisbane.

Australia has been saying rather more than this, of course. It has been saying that the national game has rarely been required to so desperately scrape the bottom of the barrel and if the Aussies plainly had an edge of advantage going into this morning's action they still had large amounts of difficult terrain to cover.

Johnson and Ryan Harris did conspicuously well in creating a first-innings lead but the wellbeing created by their performances was quickly enough diminished by fresh evidence that the Australian captain Ricky Ponting and his number two Michael Clarke are currently operating as though they have lost all confidence in what they are doing.

Mike Hussey remains an obdurate obstacle, Shane Watson might just have kept his head at the latest prospect of a century, Brad Haddin, so bizarrely placed below new boy Steve Smith in the batting order, may have another top-notch innings in him and Johnson, for the moment at least, is perhaps sufficiently buoyed to reproduce the quality of his first-innings knock.

None of this, however, should have dissuaded Graeme Swann and the pacemen that they were capable of restricting Australia to a lead of not much more than 300.

All else has to be categorised as revision based on the back of Australia's second good Test day of 12 in this series. Can they really repair the damage of the Gabba and the Adelaide Oval – and make nonsense of the belief that Australian cricket has not for several generations been so short of authentic new Test material?

The questions are best directed at the England dressing room, where the bowlers have to acknowledge that their performance yesterday slipped below par and of the batsmen only Ian Bell can continue to congratulate himself on the evenness of some brilliant form and the force of his argument that he should now step in front of Collingwood in the line-up.

Of course it would be a little premature to suggest that the arrival of wives and girlfriends – and the effects of Jimmy Anderson's flying visit home on paternal duty – has had any more than a circumstantial connection with the fear that English eyes have been less acutely on the ball since arriving in Perth.

It is maybe a knee jerk reaction that Jonathan Trott (4) and Kevin Pietersen (0) will hopefully be keen to ridicule. In this ambition they should know they will most certainly be the nation's guests.