Why Day 2 in Perth Was the Day the 2013/14 Ashes Contest Finally Ended

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2013

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 14:  Peter Siddle of Australia celebrates dismissing Kevin Pietersen of England during day two of the Third Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at WACA on December 14, 2013 in Perth, Australia.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

As play resumed after tea for the final session at the WACA Ground on Saturday, England faced an evening that would ultimately decide the outcome of their Ashes defence. 

Chasing a deceptively strong total of 385 from the home side, the visitors had scrapped their way to a delicate 91-2 with just a couple of hours remaining in a compelling second day. At the crease stood Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen, the two men most capable of reversing England's fortunes in a bleak campaign.

Of course, it seems that each and every session of this series has been labelled as both decisive and critical; our eagerness to hype the importance of small periods growing with every hour that passes.

Yet, the nature of the Test venue in Perth places a greater emphasis on brief periods than most arenas; the almost frantic speed that matches take on in Western Australia meaning results can be determined in less than an hour.

That highlight-a-minute cricket that often presents itself at the WACA Ground was evident on the opening day, when Australia rattled along at five runs per over for their first 150, carelessly losing wickets at almost the same speed.

With the Test's breakneck pace better suiting the aggressive hosts, England desperately needed to take the spoils from a vital final session on Day 2.

But after a grinding day—a largely unusual occurrence in Perth—was completed, it was Australia who had seized the initiative. 

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 14:  England captain Alastair Cook reacts after being dismissed by Nathan Lyon of Australia during day two of the Third Ashes Test Match between Australia and England at WACA on December 14, 2013 in Perth, Australia.  (Photo by
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Cook, who had reined in his game to compile a gritty but hardly fluent 72, was the man to first succumb to the weight of the final session. 

After cutting Nathan Lyon to the fence just two balls prior, the England captain attempted the same stroke again, but could only gift a straightforward catch to David Warner at point—ironically the man who had given his wicket away in the very same manner just 24 hours earlier.

Cook's anguished expression as he left the field was indicative of a man who recognised what his demise meant for his side; the captain's struggles at the top removing the calm that was once associated with England's fabled batting order.

It's perhaps Cook's strike rate that best outlines Australia's success against the prolific left-hander. In his emphatic triumphs on Australian soil in 2010-11, Cook scored at 53.26 runs per 100 balls. In this series, that number has plummeted to 38.88.

The fall of the captain left Pietersen—England's most gifted performer—as the key man of the session. A breathtaking masterpiece, of which he is certainly capable, would shift the balance of the match; a quick exit likely ending it. 

The precarious situation seemed to rob the right-hander of his instincts, as he uncharacteristically crawled to just four from his first 43 balls faced. A lucky edge through the slips and a tickle to fine-leg off Mitchell Johnson eventually got his innings moving, but a grossly mistimed heave off Peter Siddle resulted in an athletic grab from Johnson at mid-on just minutes later.

With Siddle letting out a primal roar upon capturing the magical Englishman for a remarkable 10th time in Test cricket, it was uncomfortable to watch Pietersen depart with such uncertainty. 

Caught between a rock and a hard place—an apt situation on this Perth pitch—England's talisman appeared to have temporarily lost the usual clarity with which he performs. His reluctance to attack in his customary manner suggested that even the most domineering of men can be overawed by the combination of pressure and burden. 

Despite Johnson failing to capture another haul of wickets—actually failing to grab just one—Australia found a different recipe, with the other four bowlers, including Shane Watson, all grabbing one scalp apiece.

Certainly, it's easy to point out that the visitors still have six wickets in the shed, but the loss of England's two most influential swordsmen has effectively ended this contest.

Both the match and the series.

Ian Bell, still his side's most composed performer, has just a raw Ben Stokes, an out-of-form Matt Prior, and a suddenly brittle tail left to bat alongside.

With cracks wider than the chasm in performance between the teams already opening up on a wicket being baked in 40-degree heat, the task of chasing any number in excess of 250 in the fourth innings will be a strenuous one for Cook and his men.

More pointedly, Australia's almost incensed craving for revenge is driving an impressively unrelenting approach from Michael Clarke's side; something that appears unlikely to cease whilst in another dominant position.

While England have defiantly quelled the questions surrounding their will and courage, Australia's tormentors are now ripe for the picking; a fatigued outfit with lingering issues being exposed by a rejuvenated group more hell-bent on winning than any of us suspected.

The Test will, of course, resume on Sunday, with England clinging to hopes of a Day 3 revival. But without Cook and Pietersen to alter the match's direction, the battle-weary visitors face the steepest of climbs to avoid a third consecutive defeat.

Right now, that climb appears to be a few steps too far for England.