BRISBANE AUSTRALIA – After spending three months trying to convince critics that the last Ashes series was much closer than it looked, Michael Clarke’s Australian squad did everything they could to ram home the point against England on Saturday.
Resuming at 65-0 and with a 224-run lead, Australia got centuries from Clarke (113) and David Warner (124) to lift its total to 401-7 before declaring with a 560-run lead, leaving England’s top order an hour to survive on day three.
Warner upped the ante after play by saying the England batsmen “look like they’ve got scared eyes.”
Pacemen Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson, aided by a cooling breeze and gloomy, gathering clouds, dismissed opener Michael Carberry (0) and No. 3 Jonathan Trott (9) to have England reeling at 10-2.
Alastair Cook (11) and Kevin Pietersen (3) combined to help England reach stumps at 24-2, but it could have been much worse.
Pietersen, playing his 100th test and apparently desperate to get off strike against Johnson, took off for a quick single and almost had Cook run-out with the total at 10.
There were shades of the first innings, when England lost six wickets for nine runs in 58 balls before eventually being skittled for 136, until Cook took control with some composed play in the last half hour of a day that certainly belonged to the Australians.
Harris had almost instant success in England’s second innings when Carberry played a ball onto his stumps with the total at one.
Trott played an irresponsible shot to pull a ball from Johnson directly to Nathan Lyon.
“We’ll take the third wicket tomorrow morning and hopefully we take the rest after that,” Warner told a news conference after stumps. “Our bowlers are bowling fast at the moment. England are on the back foot. The way that (Trott) got out today was pretty poor and weak. Obviously there’s a weakness there and we’re on top of it at the moment.”
Clarke and Warner both started the series under pressure, and both responded emphatically in the second innings at the Gabba, where Australia hasn’t lost a test in 25 years.
Clarke was out just before tea after scoring his 25th test century and after sharing partnerships of 158 with Warner and 52 with George Bailey (34) against a flagging England pace attack and two increasingly frustrated slow bowlers.
England has won the last three Ashes series and certainly isn’t out of contention at the Gabba, although history is against Cook’s team.
The biggest successful fourth-innings chase at the Gabba was Australia’s 236-7 against the West Indies in 1951. And the West Indies’ 418-7 against Australia in 2003 is the highest fourth-innings to win in more than 130 years of test cricket.
In the corresponding test of the 2010 Ashes series, England scored 517-1 declared after giving up a first-innings lead in the drawn first test. Cook scored an unbeaten 235 in that innings, which set England on course to win the urn on Australian soil for the first time in 24 years.
“We’ve got an opportunity to show some character and some fight to stay in the game,” veteran England paceman Jimmy Anderson said. “We know it’s a long series and if we do lose this match we’re going to go down fighting, that’s just the way we play our cricket.
“There’s four test matches after this, so it’s not all doom and gloom if we lose this but we’ll keep battling to the very end.”
Warner was a distraction in the 3-0 defeat in England in August, and is desperate to make amends.
The 27-year-old left-hander lost his place for two tests on the last Ashes tour after a night club altercation with England batsman Joe Root and was later dropped from Australia’s limited-overs squad for a tour of India due to a lack of form.
But after securing selection for this with a string of domestic centuries, he hit 13 boundaries and a giant driven six on Saturday which clattered into the sight screen to reach 124, but was out three balls later trying to run a ball from Stuart Broad down to third man and instead feathering a catch to Matt Prior. He also batted with composure in the first innings until an ill-judged shot to Broad ended in dismissal on 49.
Clarke responded to concerns over his susceptibility to the short ball with consecutive boundaries against Broad, who was reintroduced to the attack almost as soon as the Australian captain got onto strike.
Clarke pulled a short ball for a boundary from near shoulder height and then hooked the next ball fine for four to set up his innings. Broad had taken Clarke’s wicket six times in recent Ashes tests, including in the first innings here.
But it was Clarke who got on top quickly on a ground where he has scored more than 1,000 test runs and averages above 100.
He faced 130 balls and struck 10 boundaries and a six before he was bowled by Graeme Swann — the England spinner’s first wicket of the series — just before tea.
Haddin continued with a run-a-ball 53, going with his 94 in the first innings, in a 200th test he’ll remember. Chris Tremlett had the best figures of the England bowlers in the second innings with 3-69 and Broad had 2-55, giving him eight for the match.