Australia beat England by 150 runs in the third Test in Perth to take back the Ashes urn from the tourists for the first time since 2007 – and set their sights on a whitewash in a series that they have totally dominated against a team that was number one in the world two years ago.
The hosts, who had won the opening Test in Brisbane by 381 runs and the second in Adelaide by 218, brought an end to England’s run of three consecutive Ashes series triumphs.
Ben Stokes made the Australians sweat through the first session on the fifth and final day of the match with his maiden Test hundred – England’s first of the series – as the tourists chased their improbable victory target of 504.
Once the 22-year-old lefthander was dismissed for 120 in the third over after lunch to reduce the tourists to 336 for seven, though, Australia quickly ran through the England tail.
Mitchell Johnson, whose fiery spells of pace bowling had turned the first two Tests, finished with four for 78 after dismissing James Anderson to end England’s innings for 353, sparking wild celebrations from his team mates.
“It’s a fantastic feeling,” said captain Michael Clarke, the only member of the Australia team to have previously enjoyed Ashes success.
“What an amazing performance not just throughout this Test match but over the course of three Test matches. I think we put a lot of work in over a long period of time and we got the Ashes back.
“I don’t think you’ll find one bloke in that dressing room who won’t say that this is the pinnacle.
“Playing Test cricket against England and winning the Ashes. That’s always been the pinnacle for Australian cricketers.”
Lefthander Stokes, who made his debut in the second Test in Adelaide, showed great concentration and no little courage to help England to their biggest innings score of the series.
|Day five scorecard|
Australia first innings 385 all out
Australia second innings 369-6 dec
England had resumed on 251 for five requiring another 253 runs for an extraordinary victory or more likely needing to bat through the final day to save the Test.
The yawning cracks that had opened up on the sunbaked wicket added an extra danger factor for the batsmen, with one Ryan Harris delivery to Stokes jagging off into the slips.
It was Johnson who made the breakthrough when Matt Prior took a swipe at widish delivery and got a nick on it to be caught behind for 26.
Two overs later and Stokes, who had edged his way nervously through the 90s, pulled Johnson to the long-leg for four to reach his hundred.
England made it through to lunch at 332-6 but their task always looked too tough and when Stokes was caught behind off spinner Nathan Lyon the end was in sight.
Australia, smarting from England’s previous period of dominance between the sides, will now be targeting a 5-0 sweep in the final two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney.
England captain Alastair Cook admitted losing the Ashes was the low point of his 100-Test career but said he was not embarrassed by the performance of his team.
“The dressing room is hurting like hell. It’s a tough place to be. We’ve had plenty of success and this is the other end of it. It’s not pleasant,” he said.
“In sport, if you turn up and aren’t good enough, you’re going to get found out. We haven’t been good enough, that’s the reason we lost.
“I’ll never be embarrassed for the way we go about things and the effort the lads put in. It’s a hard thing to say when you’ve been beaten and you deserve to get beaten. It’s never good as a sportsman to admit it, but we have.”
Cook, who is averaging just 25.66 in this series, gave credit to Australia and rejected suggestions the hosts had triumphed courtesy of greater effort and desire.
“I think it’s the first thing you do when you lose – people look at the hunger and the desire,” he said.
“I can honestly say in our dressing room, both are there. We just haven’t had the skills to match it.
“Sport is not about trying at all – it’s about delivering. We know we tried as hard as we could and we haven’t delivered. We have to give credit to Australia.
“The way they fought back from what happened in England to here. They’ve done an outstanding job behind the scenes and a lot of their players have had very good series.”