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The Ashes: England sliding towards series defeat

PUBLISHED: 13:22 17 December 2017 | UPDATED: 13:22 17 December 2017

England's Alastair Cook walks off after being dismissed during day four of the Ashes Test at the WACA (pic Jason O'Brien/PA)

England's Alastair Cook walks off after being dismissed during day four of the Ashes Test at the WACA (pic Jason O'Brien/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

England were left needing a miracle in the middle or help from the elements to pull off a great escape in Perth.

Australia registered their highest Ashes total on home soil and then left Joe Root’s tourists to bat through almost five sessions to avoid an innings defeat in the third Test.

Steve Smith (239) and Mitch Marsh (181) added only 10 runs to their epic combined contribution before James Anderson (4-116) had both lbw, but the Australia captain was still able to declare on a mammoth 662-9.

England’s task was unenviable but James Vince (55) at least helped to push this mismatched contest into a final day, with a stumps total of 132-4.

Rain brought an early end to the fourth day’s play, meaning Monday’s final day will start half an hour early at 10am local time.

Josh Hazlewood’s tight line and pace had posed too many questions with the new ball for Mark Stoneman, who edged behind pushing forward.

Then Alastair Cook’s lean tour continued with a half-chance poked back to Hazlewood, who duly pulled off a brilliant one-handed catch low in his follow-through.

Root himself hinted at some fluent defiance until he was dismissed by the first ball of Nathan Lyon’s spell and was again very well caught by Smith at slip, the home skipper adjusting his timing after a big deflection from the wicketkeeper’s glove.

It therefore fell to Vince and Dawid Malan to try to keep Australia at bay.

Vince mixed his attacking fluency with calm and watchful defence, and there were 11 fours in his 82-ball 50 before he lost his off-stump to an unplayable ball from Mitchell Starc which deviated almost sideways from round the wicket at approaching 90 miles per hour.

Malan’s riposte included four fours in one Pat Cummins over – two pulls, an off-drive and a cut – as he and fellow first-innings centurion Jonny Bairstow set out to replicate some of that success.

The cracks in the surface were evident by now, though, and England’s batsmen had become hostages to fortune.

They must have had decidedly mixed feelings when, after an overnight shift in the weather pattern, Anderson began finding movement both through the air and off the pitch.

It brought him the wicket of Marsh, to the second ball of the morning after 464 deliveries had proved fruitless against Australia’s fifth-wicket pair the previous day.

A disbelieving Marsh went to DRS after being hit in front on the back foot, but Chris Gaffaney’s decision was marginally upheld by technology which showed ball hitting the very top of middle stump.

Smith’s tour de force was done too four overs later, with Anderson overturning an initial not-out verdict to the 399th ball the Australia captain faced following more than nine-and-a-half hours at the crease.

Starc was soon gone, in a run-out mix-up, but Tim Paine and Cummins pressed on again after the unfamiliar rush of three wickets for 12 runs.

Their stand of 93 lasted into early afternoon, and Smith only called time after Cummins became Anderson’s third lbw scalp of the day and Lyon holed out off England’s all-time leading wicket-taker.

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