Sydney, Jan 4: Australia are closing in on a 5-0 clean sweep of the Ashes after the second day’s play against England in the fifth and final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) here Saturday.
Notwithstanding another wobbly effort by Australia’s top order during the final session that left them 140 for four at stumps in the second innings, the hosts still have a huge lead of 311 runs with six wickets in hand going into the third day. Chris Rogers, who hit a chanceless 73, was at the crease with George Bailey on 20.
There were ever more signs apparent that batting on a surface that retains some grass but is bone dry underneath thereby producing erratic, disconcerting bounce is becoming more difficult by the half hour.
Certainly, that’s about as long as it took this morning for the final pretence of England’s resistance to be laid to rest.
By that stage Ryan Harris (3/36) and Mitchell Johnson (3/33) had exploited the conditions as well as the technical and mental frailties of England’s rapidly fading stars to reduce them to an embarrassing 5-23 and in danger of their lowest SCG total in more than a century. But England were all out for 155, 171 runs short of Australia’s first innings score of 326.
It was Harris’ unerring knack to land the ball where batsmen like it least – that length whereby they are compelled to push forward but unable to get close enough to the bounce to blanket the pitch’s skullduggery – that started the trouble.
That was the second ball of the morning when Alastair Cook, clearly wilting beneath the yoke of unsuccessful captaincy and unremitting criticism, opted not to offer a shot to a ball that would have uprooted his off stump.
Ian Bell would have followed him a ball later had Shane Watson’s hands at first slip not proved as hard and unreliable as his chiselled physique.
But as has been the case all summer, any English reprieve proved more comic relief as they unearthed new and quick fire ways in which to fail.
Nightwatchman James Anderson (7) began a regular trail back to the dressing room that Kevin Pietersen (3) and Bell (2) seemed only too obliged to join.
When Harris wasn’t probing the plentiful inadequacies in England’s techniques, the all-pervading menace of Johnson continued to lurk like a great white shark and Peter Siddle (3/23) was on hand to maintain the squeeze as effectively and unassumingly as he’s done throughout the series.
Indeed, it was Siddle who might well have struck the most telling blow when he lured replacement keeper Jonny Bairstow into a careless on drive that lobbed obligingly to the fielder stationed specifically at short mid-on for such an occurrence.
Rather it was the cloud of dust and dislodgement of the pitch’s surface crust that the delivery yielded which led to the miscue of Bairstow’s speculative drive, that would have sent further misgivings through an already skittish England dressing room.
The prospect of chasing anything beyond 150 on a pitch from which the ball is habitually spitting, climbing and spinning would be tough enough without the likes of Johnson and Harris standing in the way.