SYDNEY: Already 2-0 up in the series and with Mitchell Johnson running riot, Australia could hardly be charged with more confidence as they look to rout a dispirited England in the third Ashes Test and recapture the coveted urn.
In a remarkable turnaround, Australia have transformed themselves in a few short months from plucky 3-0 losers in England into an aggressive outfit which has dominated every aspect of play in crushing victories in Brisbane and Adelaide.
Starting today, they have a chance to drive home their advantage and win the tiny terracotta symbol of Anglo-Australian sporting rivalry for the first time since Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath signed off with a 5-0 sweep in 2007.
Johnson’s personal transformation has been no less spectacular and the oft-ridiculed paceman now gets his chance to terrorise at his adopted home ground, where even in the dark days of the 2010-11 series he bowled his country to victory.
“It should be fast and bouncy and that excites me a lot, excites all our fast bowlers,” said Johnson, who has taken 36 wickets in five Tests at an average of 19.66 at the WACA. “We’re familiar with these conditions and we know where to bowl ... if you can bowl a ball accurately at someone’s (helmet) grill, I don’t care who you are, you are going to feel intimidated, especially on a wicket like Perth.”
England could hardly have chosen a worse arena to find themselves with their backs to the wall than the WACA, where they have won only one Test in 12, and that back in 1978.
Meanwhile, in a neat moment of sporting synchronicity, both Australia captain Michael Clarke and his English counterpart Alastair Cook will play their 100th Test in the third Ashes conTest this week.
It is a great achievement for two master batsmen but given their competitive nature, only a win at the WACA will allow either to really enjoy passing what was once the rarest of milestones.
For Clarke, victory would secure a 3-0 series triumph and the return of the coveted urn after three consecutive Ashes defeats at the hands of his country’s greatest sporting rival.
“I think that’s why it’s most special for me, that we have the chance to win the Ashes,” Clarke told reporters at the WACA yesterday.
“It’s obviously fantastic that I’ve been able to play 99 Tests for my country, something I’m certainly proud of, but in regards to it being my 100th Test match, it’s not my focus, there’s enough other reasons why this match is special to me and this team.”
For Cook, a first win for the tourists in Perth since 1978 would arrest an alarming decline in the fortunes of the England team since they arrived in Australia charged with confidence after a dominant 3-0 win back home earlier this year.
Clarke said he was confident paceman Ryan Harris would be fit for the third Test today but all-rounder James Faulkner has been ruled out of the match with a broken thumb.
The all-rounder broke the thumb on his right hand in Thursday morning’s net session and Cricket Australia later confirmed he would miss the match.
“James was struck on the right thumb while batting in the nets and was subsequently taken for an X-ray which revealed a fracture of the thumb,” team doctor Peter Brukner said in a statement.
“As a result he will not be available for the third Test. His progress will be monitored for a return to playing duty depending on how quickly the injury heals.”