Perth:Australia are closing in on a series-levelling victory at the WACA after ripping out five England wickets during the final session to back up Michael Hussey's 116 which continued his phenomenal series. Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris both struck in the final five minutes of play to finish with two apiece while other scalp, the key one of Kevin Pietersen for 3, went to the hardworking Ben Hilfenhaus as England lurched to stumps on 5 for 81.
Those final few moments did huge damage to England who were already struggling. Jonathan Trott had played well for 31 before fencing at Johnson and, in a sign of how fortunes have changed, Ricky Ponting parried the ball at second slip only for Brad Haddin to snap up the chance. Ponting immediately left the field for treatment on a finger so missed the final-ball drama when the out-of-form Paul Collingwood edge Harris to third slip, the ball after nightwatchman James Anderson declined a single to take the strike off Collingwood.
Hussey and Shane Watson, who fell five runs short of his hundred, were chiefly responsible for building Australia's strong position as they extended their fourth-wicket stand to 113. After that, England staged a fightback with Chris Tremlett claiming his maiden five-wicket haul as the last six wickets fell for 55 but, despite the positive talk of a repeat of South Africa's 414-run chase in 2008-09, history was always unlikely to repeat itself.
Australia were mightily pumped up for the final session, knowing the quick bowlers could go full throttle. Ponting wasn't afraid to switch the bowlers around and it was a change of ends for Harris that brought the first breakthrough when Alastair Cook was struck on the back leg. Cook asked Andrew Strauss if it was worth a review, but wasn't supported by his captain. The ball would have clipped the bails.
Johnson had been brought on in the sixth over and offered a couple of boundary balls, then tightened up to off stump and found Strauss's edge which flew comfortably to Ponting at second slip. Whereas Hussey had given a lesson in what to leave, England's batsmen were far less certain.
Pietersen also chased a wide delivery that he poked to first slip to give Hilfenhaus his first wicket since the third ball of the series. Pietersen had escaped a pair with a pull to fine leg but hadn't settled when he hung his bat out, although it was nothing less than Hilfenhaus deserved for a probing spell. For Pietersen it was his lowest contributed when he has batted twice in a Test. Like his team, it's been quite a comedown from Adelaide.
Throughout the match it has been tough for batsmen when they first come in, which emphasises the importance of the lone hundred so far from Hussey. His latest masterclass made him the first batsman to hit six consecutive fifty-plus scores in a Ashes Tests, a run dating back to his futile hundred at The Oval in 2009. He also became the leading run-scorer in the series, overtaking Cook, and made this the most prolific series of his career. Not bad for a player who nearly lost his place before it all started in Brisbane.
He brought up his hundred with a crunching pull, the manner in which many of his boundaries arrived as England maintained the plan of feeding his strength. He was barely troubled by any of the short-pitched offerings, which although working against some of his team-mates were a futile and wasted effort to Hussey.
Hussey has an impressive conversion rate of fifties to hundreds, but the same can't yet be said of Watson. He'd barely put a foot wrong during his innings, unfurling some thumping drives against Steven Finn as he moved carefully to 95 and within sight of his third Test century. Tremlett then got one to hold its line on middle which Watson missed, but the batsman called for a review thinking he'd hit the ball.
It was a small window for England, which looked to have become a little bigger when Steven Smith was given caught at slip off an inside edge by Billy Doctrove, but this time the UDRS worked in Australia's favour when no nick was detected and the ball was also heading over the stumps. It was a skittish innings from Smith, who could also have been run out, before Tremlett's move to round the wicket worked as Smith gloved down the leg side
Haddin began with a sweep for six over midwicket against Swann, who only bowled five overs in the day and struggled, but got an inside edge into the stumps to give Tremlett a fourth. The lower order couldn't offer Hussey much support as Johnson drove to cover, Harris pulled to deep midwicket and Siddle edged to third to slip to hand Anderson his 200th Test wicket.
Hussey finally departed to the pull, when he picked out deep square-leg to give Tremlett a deserved five-wicket haul, but his innings had set up victory that will arrive on Sunday. And from the position Australia were in on the first afternoon, that's an astonishing turnaround.