The Ashes: England surrender urn before Christmas
PUBLISHED: 08:31 18 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:31 18 December 2017
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England have lost the Ashes before Christmas despite Dawid Malan’s late, lone-hand resilience and a controversial three-hour delay after overnight rain got underneath the WACA’s leaky covers.
The tourists were spared 28 of the scheduled 98 overs on the final day of the third Test but had to contend with the mental – and potentially physical – consequences of a pitch left with soft patches around the worn cracks at the Lillee-Marsh end.
They were unable to keep Josh Hazlewood (5-48) at bay as they folded from 132-4 to 218 all out in under 35 overs to lose by an innings and 41 runs, with a session unused, and hand Australia an unassailable 3-0 series lead.
Malan’s 54 held the hosts up for 135 balls, but even the best efforts of England’s sterling first-innings centurion could only delay the inevitable.
There were farcical scenes at times before play got under way as captain and coach on either side gave differing mid-pitch opinions to the umpires, with attempts to remedy the effects of rain having somehow seeped under the covers the previous evening hampered by more showers blowing across the ground.
England coach Trevor Bayliss voiced his concerns to broadcasters, during morning deliberations, that conditions had been rendered too “difficult ... maybe even a little dangerous”.
Repeatedly, groundstaff and their covers were blown across the square as one squally shower after another surged in from the south-west – and a soggy hessian rug was relaid on the pitch each time, before leaf-blowers of increasing size were commandeered to aid the drying process.
Umpires Chris Gaffaney and Marais Erasmus finally decided play could get under way after an early lunch at 1pm – and, within a handful of deliveries, it was clear England were going to be up against it.
Jonny Bairstow departed to the first delivery he faced, Hazlewood instantly locating the problem area and finding enough deviation and low bounce to utterly defeat the Yorkshireman’s tentative forward-defensive and knock back his off stump.
Three balls later, new batsman Moeen Ali survived on four only after third umpire Aleem Dar concurred with the soft signal on the pitch that an edge to Steve Smith at second slip had not quite carried.
The Australia captain did not appear amused, but must have been heartened again in Hazlewood’s next over with another delivery to Malan that hit a crack and looped off at an angle of a metre or more into the hands of slip.
Moeen has had a poor tour, and did nothing to improve his or England’s fortunes.
He narrowly escaped his early edge off Hazlewood, then would have run himself out chancing a dodgy single if David Warner had managed a direct hit from cover.
It made little difference, because he was then lbw on the forward-defence to Nathan Lyon – falling to his opposite number for the fifth time in six innings this winter.
There was still distant hope for England while Malan held firm.
But, after he was seventh out gloving an attempted pull behind off Hazlewood, there was only the tail left, and it was soon waving goodbye to the urn.