PERTH: Australia were confident rain would not deny them the Ashes despite play being abandoned early on the fourth day of the third Test against England in Perth on Sunday.
The home side lead the five-Test series 2-0 and a win in the last-ever Ashes Test to be played at the WACA Ground would see them regain the urn, and at stumps on the fourth day they could smell victory despite the showers sweeping across Perth and predicted to continue into the final day’s play.
Trailing by 259 runs in the first innings after Australia declared at 662 for nine, England were 132 for four when stumps was called early after a rain-interrupted final session, with Dawid Malan on 28 and Jonny Bairstow on 14, still behind by 127 runs.
Australian pacemen Josh Hazlewood, who claimed the wickets of opener Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman said the home side didn’t expect rain to stand in their way.
“We’ve looked at it (weather forecast) a little bit,” he said.
“I think there is just some rain tomorrow morning, hopefully that doesn’t hang around too long and we can get the best part of two sessions in to take these next six wickets.”
“We’d love to have stayed out there for another today and got that fifth wicket, but we’ll come back tomorrow for the other six.”
The last man out on the fourth day was James Vince for a neat 55, bowled when a Mitchell Starc ball jagged off a crack and crashed into his stumps.
Hazlewood said the crack would be part of the Australian attack’s game plan on the last day.
“I’d like five or six more (to hit the crack) tomorrow,” he said.
“You only need a couple to straighten off it and you are in the game.
“It’s a pretty simple method, there is not much more out there to aim at than that crack.”
Vince conceded there was nothing he could have done against the delivery.
– ‘It’s going to be tough’ –
More rain is forecast for Monday, although it is only predicted to be a problem before lunchtime.
Vince said the English believed they could save the game regardless of the weather.
“I think we try and put the rain to the back of our minds,” he said.
“We’ve got to have belief that we can save the series and get over the line tomorrow.
“It’s going to be tough and I’m sure there’s going to be some good balls flying around out there but these two especially showed in the first innings that they can occupy the crease for a long time, so hopefully they get off to a good start in the morning.”
The tourists’ second innings got off to a dismal start when opener Stoneman was caught behind from the bowling of Hazlewood for just three in the second over.
In his 150th Test, Cook’s woes then continued when Hazlewood snared a brilliant one-handed return catch to remove him for 14, leaving the former skipper with just 83 runs at 13.83 for the series.
Captain Joe Root was the third man out, to spinner Nathan Lyon’s first ball of the innings, caught at first slip by his Australian counterpart Steve Smith for 14 off the glove of wicketkeeper Tim Paine.
Earlier Australia scored their highest Ashes total at home and fifth-highest against England.
Although Smith added just 10 to his overnight total before being dismissed for 239, his innings was the cornerstone of the massive total.
Smith was adjudged leg before wicket on review after James Anderson’s confident shout was turned down by on-field umpire Chris Gaffaney.
The review ended a chanceless 399-ball epic innings which included 30 fours and one six.
The other overnight batsman, Mitchell Marsh, had departed a few minutes earlier — failing to add to his 181 when he was trapped leg before wicket by Anderson to end a 301-run partnership with Smith.
Anderson finished with four wickets, all claimed on day four, while Stuart Broad recorded career-worst figures of 0-142.