Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin weathered a superb spell of bowling from England early on to build a partnership that broke records and has made victory for England nigh on impossible.
Hussey, a new man after suffering a prolonged slump in form and a let-off first ball when he edged just short of second slip on Day 2, brought up his ton with a celebration that was more primal scream than war-cry. He has admitted the criticism of recent days has affected him; the decision of the selectors to include both him and Peter Siddle in the side ahead of Dougie Bollinger and a younger batsman now looks to be vindicated.
Hussey’s day was not – again – without its share of luck. Given out lbw on 82 off the bowling of Jimmy Anderson, the decision was overturned on referral when Hawkeye showed the ball pitching outside leg stump. Three runs later Anderson went up again, to no avail: had England not used up both their referrals, the simulation would this time have showed the ball hitting the stumps.
James Anderson’s figures do not accurately reflect how well he bowled today, for no reward. Brad Haddin, who together with Hussey compiled a partnership of 307 that lasted six and a half hours, admitted that the spell he faced from Anderson early in the day was “probably the hardest Test bowling I’ve ever had to face”.
Misfields and dropped catches in the deep added to England’s gloom, and when at last the partnership was broken and the tail-enders mopped up by Finn, Australia’s lead was 221.
England’s innings did not start auspiciously, Strauss rapped on the pads leaving the first ball he faced and having to endure a nervous couple of minutes as the not-out decision was reviewed and upheld due to height.
He and Alastair Cook survived to stumps but a draw is now the best England can hope for. It is a task that that will require cool heads, calm nerves, and some big names to step up. Realistically England will need to bat all of Day 4 and until lunch on Day 5 if they are to escape the Gabbatoir alive.
It was never going to be easy for England at this ground, but they can still come out of this Test with their morale intact if they prove to themselves and their opposition that they have the stomach for this fight, even if defeat now seems the most likely outcome.