England on the brink of series defeat at the WACA

Dawid Malan heads off after the rain arrived (Jason O'Brien/PA)
Dawid Malan heads off after the rain arrived (Jason O'Brien/PA)

England were left needing a miracle in the middle or help from the elements to pull off a great escape in Perth.

Australia registered their highest Ashes total on home soil and then left Joe Root’s tourists to bat through almost five sessions to avoid an innings defeat in the third Test.

Steve Smith (239) and Mitch Marsh (181) added only 10 runs to their epic combined contribution before James Anderson (four for 116) had both lbw, but the Australia captain was still able to declare on a mammoth 662 for nine.

And that's that for the dayEngland will resume on day five 132-4, still needing 127 more runs to make Australia bat again #Ashes pic.twitter.com/8jH9NIkML9

— PA Sport (@pasport) December 17, 2017

England’s task was unenviable but James Vince (55) at least helped to push this mismatched contest into a final day, with a stumps total of 132 for four.

Rain brought an early end to the fourth day’s play, meaning Monday’s final day will start half an hour early at 10am local time.

Josh Hazlewood’s tight line and pace had posed too many questions with the new ball for Mark Stoneman, who edged behind pushing forward.

It therefore fell to Vince and Dawid Malan to try to keep Australia at bay. Vince mixed his attacking fluency with calm and watchful defence, and there were 11 fours in his 82-ball 50 before he lost his off-stump to an unplayable ball from Mitchell Starc which deviated almost sideways from round the wicket at approaching 90 miles per hour.

Malan’s riposte included four fours in one Pat Cummins over – two pulls, an off-drive and a cut – as he and fellow first-innings centurion Jonny Bairstow set out to replicate some of that success.

That's just absurd #Ashes pic.twitter.com/TtkEDPjbJH

— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 17, 2017

The cracks in the surface were evident by now, though, and England’s batsmen had become hostages to fortune.

They must have had decidedly mixed feelings when, after an overnight shift in the weather pattern, Anderson began finding movement both through the air and off the pitch.

It brought him the wicket of Marsh, to the second ball of the morning after 464 deliveries had proved fruitless against Australia’s fifth-wicket pair the previous day.

A disbelieving Marsh went to DRS after being hit in front on the back foot, but Chris Gaffaney’s decision was marginally upheld by technology which showed ball hitting the very top of middle stump.

Anderson gets Mitch Marsh in the first over of the day for 181.AUS 549/5 #AUSFollow: https://t.co/2ns4ffFFc4 pic.twitter.com/cO1nLdrEwl

— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 17, 2017

Smith’s tour de force was done too four overs later, Anderson overturning an initial not-out verdict to the 399th ball the Australia captain faced following more than nine-and-a-half hours at the crease.

Starc was soon gone, in a run-out mix-up, but Tim Paine and Cummins pressed on again after the unfamiliar rush of three wickets for 12 runs.

Their stand of 93 lasted into early afternoon, and Smith only called time after Cummins became Anderson’s third lbw scalp of the day and Lyon holed out off England’s all-time leading wicket-taker.

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