Reports about the extinction of Australia's cricket team might have been slightly exaggerated.
Their re-emergence into the third Test and the Ashes series yesterday was as dramatic as it was unexpected by the team, the crowd and the nation.
But re-emerge they did because of a stunning piece of fast swing bowling by Mitchell Johnson, who took 6 for 38 in a breathtaking exhibition that swept aside most of England's top order. It was like a last-minute miracle cure for a dying man being administered by a bloke who had been struck off the medical register.
Johnson was dropped after the drawn first Test, in which his bowling was woefully inept, and sent for intensive remedial work in the nets. But yesterday he was irresistible in a spell of nine morning overs during which he took four wickets in 27 balls. At last it was possible to understand why he was world cricketer of the year two years ago.
He gave Australia a first-innings lead of 81, which they can hardly have dared hope for given that the pitch, while fast, was also true. But he provided them with something else as well. It appeared to reignite their self-belief and the bouncer barrage they threatened was instigated in full.
Make no mistake, when Australia and their followers came to the Waca yesterday they feared the worst. They feared that the Ashes were to be denied them all too soon.
This was a Johnson whom England had never seen, quick, accurate, hostile and venomous, and all those adjectives could be applied as much to his tongue as his bowling. England were undone as much because they simply can never have realised that Johnson could bowl like this.
Like everybody else, they might have heard about the chap who apparently gave South Africa some trouble with the swinging ball early in 2009, but when Johnson came to England a few months later he was hapless, as timorous and unthreatening as it is possible for a fast bowler to be. He took some wickets but only because of his unpredictability.
When England arrived at the Waca on a hot day with just a hint of the familiar breeze, they might have expected to amass their usual mountain of runs. What a difference two Test matches can make. Before that they always seemed to be short of the stuff that matters in Test matches but by now they had a supply to match the European butter mountain.
For an hour it went exactly to plan. The Aussies continued to oblige in contributing to their own downfall by missing a clear chance to catch Andrew Strauss. His injudicious drive at Ryan Harris saw him edge the ball between wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and first slip Shane Watson. "After you," they each said and the ball had gone to the boundary.
That was the way things were going for Australia in this series and it would be England's day, England's Ashes. Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, was tearing his hair out, which might be fine because it is artificially implanted and he presumably has a deal with the sponsors.
But then came Johnson. The late swing – in to the right hander, out to the left hander – was apparent immediately but almost as big a difference was that it was deployed with deadly accuracy. It first did for Alastair Cook, who had batted with the confidence that successive centuries tend to give batsmen. It was looking set fair when Johnson produced a full ball which Cook was perfectly entitled to drive. But it swung late and the shot veered off the outer half of the bat towards gully, where Mike Hussey took a low catch.
The opening partnership had been 78, the 25th of above 50 between Strauss and Cook, but soon England were 98 for 5. The damage was wreaked almost entirely by Johnson. He roughed up Jonathan Trott with a short ball and then had him palpably lbw with a late swinging ball the batsman did not read.
Three balls later, Kevin Pietersen was similarly undone – following his career-best 227 in Adelaide with a duck – and his request for a review of the decision must have been made in hope and not expectation. Next went Strauss for a well-ordered 50 and perhaps his dismissal was the most culpable because he pushed down the wrong line to Harris. True, it held its own, but it needed the captain to stay around to deal with what was happening at the other end.
Poor Paul Collingwood had no chance. He too was discomfited by a swift bumper which put him in a terrible tangle, as did the full-length swinger which came soon after. Collingwood missed the ball with his bat by a foot and, although the umpire gave him the benefit of the lbw doubt, the Australian review soon gave the lie to that.
There was time for Ian Bell to exhibit the form that has marked his entire tour and if it helped that Johnson was out of the attack for much of the time, he looked capable of dealing with swing, seam, bouncers and a swarm of locusts. It was his third fifty of the series and he was again running out of partners when he flailed at a wide one from Harris.
A walk in the park for the Poms – and this was Australians speaking – had now become something else. England managed the early wickets their predicament demanded. Ponting and Michael Clarke – for both of whom these are desperate times – were out cheaply. Ponting is playing shots to try to get himself out of his trough, Clarke is apprehensive against the short ball and it shows.
But resistance blended with aggression followed and three wickets were all England could manage by the close of the second day. They were still alive in the series, of course, very much alive, but they knew that Australia had got off their sick beds and were running.
Third Ashes Test, the Waca (Second day of five): Australia lead England by 200 runs with seven second-innings wickets in hand
England won toss
Australia First Innings 268 (Johnson 62, Hussey 61, Haddin 53)
England First Innings
*A J Strauss c Haddin b Harris: 52
102 balls 8 fours
A N Cook c Hussey b Johnson: 32
63 balls 3 fours, 1 six
I J L Trott lbw b Johnson: 4
8 balls 1 four
K P Pietersen lbw b Johnson: 0
P D Collingwood lbw b Johnson: 5
I R Bell c Ponting b Harris: 53
90 balls 6 fours
†M J Prior b Siddle: 12
42 balls 1 four
G P Swann c Haddin b Harris: 11
31 balls 1 four
C T Tremlett b Johnson: 2
J M Anderson c Watson b Johnson: 0
S T Finn not out: 1
Extras (b8 lb4 w1 nb2): 15
Total (62.3 overs): 187
Fall: 1-78, 2-82, 3-82, 4-94, 5-98, 6-145, 7-181, 8-186, 9-186.
Bowling: B W Hilfenhaus 21-6-53-0, R J Harris 15-4-59-3, P M Siddle 9-2-25-1, M G Johnson 17.3-5-38-6.
Australia Second Innings
S R Watson not out: 61
113 balls 8 fours
P J Hughes c Collingwood b Finn: 12
31 balls 1 four
*R T Ponting c Prior b Finn: 1
M J Clarke b Tremlett: 20
18 balls 4 fours
M E K Hussey not out: 24
28 balls 2 fours
Extras (nb1): 1
Total (3 wkts, 33 overs):119
Fall: 1-31, 2-34, 3-64.
To bat: †B J Haddin, S P D Smith, M G Johnson, R J Harris, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.
Bowling: J M Anderson 11-5-25-0, C T Tremlett 9-2-20-1, S T Finn 9-1-48-2, G P Swann 4-0-26-0.
Umpires: BR Doctrove (WI) & M Erasmus (SA).
TV replay umpire : Aleem Dar (Pak).
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).Reuse content