Fifteen days ago, Mitchell Johnson looked a lost soul as he sat before the media to explain his omission from the Second Ashes Test in Adelaide. Today, it was England who were struggling to find their bearings after Johnson left them dazed with an explosive spell of pace and swing that means Australia are favourites to win the Third Test here at the WACA.
Johnson took six for 35 from 17.3 overs to earn his team an 81-run first-innings lead - something that appeared inconceivable after they were bowled out for 268 yesterday - and throw the Ashes series back open after England’s crushing victory in Adelaide. Australia closed on 119 for three, thanks largely to a menacing unbroken stand of 55 between Shane Watson and Mike Hussey, who punished Graeme Swann and Steve Finn. Their lead of 200 gives them control of this Test.
The tourists lost all their wickets for just 109 runs and were left stunned by Johnson, whose international career looked to be in the balance after his figures of nought for 170 in the First Test in Brisbane.
Thirteen wickets fell on a compelling second day in Perth, with England’s three strikes before the close leaving them with a tiny chance of earning the unlikely victory that would see the Ashes retained before Christmas.
On this bouncy surface, chasing anything close to 300 would prove a very difficult task. Yet if England are seeking inspiration, they should examine South Africa’s performance here two years ago, when Graeme Smith’s team scored 414 in the fourth innings for six-wicket victory.
At the hottest of Ashes venues, both sets of players reached boiling point on another ill-tempered day. Jimmy Anderson was ticked off by umpire Billy Doctrove for persistent sledging, while Matt Prior and Peter Siddle had a verbal exchange that Prior seemed to want to settle after play. With Johnson also giving loud send-offs to both Anderson and Kevin Pietersen, and England telling Michael Clarke exactly what they thought of him, perhaps WACA officials will be thinking of forming a temporary Sumo wrestling ring in the car park to give spectators some more entertainment after play.
Unfortunately, it was Australia who made all the decisive moves, although England did at least give themselves something to smile about by making inroads into the home batting.
Phillip Hughes failed again after being recalled to the team when he pushed tentatively at Finn and was caught at third slip by Collingwood. Ricky Ponting also fell cheaply for the second time in the match, gloving Finn down the leg side to Prior.
Ponting was given not out but when Marais Erasmus’ decision was reviewed, replays showed that ball clearly brushed glove. Clarke looked positive and confident before he was undone when he misread the length of a wide delivery from Chris Tremlett, attempted a cut shot and dragged the ball on to his stumps.
Who would have imagined that England’s batting line-up could be destroyed so comprehensively? Totals of 517 for one in Brisbane and 620 for five in Adelaide indicated confidence and solidity, and Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook began the morning showing just those qualities.
Strauss was lucky, edging Ryan Harris for four on 16 as neither wicketkeeper Brad Haddin nor first slip Watson moved to take the catch, but this was a rare moment of uncertainty. Cook was similarly assured, only for the match - and the series - to change when, with England 78 without loss, he drove lazily at Johnson and Hussey took a fine low catch in the gully.
Jonathan Trott is a fine batsman, yet sometimes he comes to the wicket and appears jittery. Such was the case here. Trott had already edged Johnson for a streaky four when he tried to whack the next ball, an inswinger, through midwicket and was plumb lbw.
Kevin Pietersen scored a Test-best 227 at Adelaide and spent the following week in the headlines after being caught speeding in a yellow Lamborghini provided by Shane Warne. Here, he never got out of first gear, lasting only three balls before he was trapped lbw by Johnson. Pietersen called for the review but it was never going to save him - a duck for KP and a verbal volley from Johnson to boot.
England simply could not cope with the swing Johnson was finding. Tearing in from the Northern End, the left-armer bowled a vicious bouncer at Collingwood and then suckered him with an in-ducker next ball. Collingwood was originally given not out, but the Australian review condemned him. England were 98 for five and Johnson had seized three wickets at the cost of just four runs.
Collingwood’s departure left Ian Bell as England’s only remaining specialist batsman before the score had even reached 100. Before Collingwood’s wicket, the captain had also fallen, Strauss pushing tentatively at one from Harris that left him slightly and was caught by Brad Haddin.
Along with Prior, Bell nursed England to lunch and they were making cautious progress afterwards until Prior was left cursing a member of the local wildlife. Just as Siddle entered his delivery stride, a seagull flew across the England man’s line of vision. The ball hit Prior in the midriff, bounced back off his bat and rolled towards the stumps, removing one bail.
Siddle yelled his delight in Prior’s direction and Prior responded in the same vein, but at this stage, it was only Australia who were supporting their words with deeds.
Swann assisted Bell for 10.3 overs before nicking Harris through to Haddin. Then Bell - who had made his third fifty of the series and his 11th in Ashes cricket - drove at a wide one from the same bowler and was taken at second slip by Ponting.
Twice in his three innings in this series, Bell has been left stranded with the tail. He could be forgiven for looking at England’s four top-order century-makers and thinking “it’s all right for you boys”, but had he been more careful and batted for longer with the lower order, England’s deficit might not have been so significant.
As it was, Johnson made short work of Tremlett and Anderson to crown a brilliant display either side of lunch. What impact will his work today have on the battle for the Ashes?
Tom Collomosse is the cricket correspondent for the Evening Standard.Reuse content