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Australia retakes Ashes after English collapse

Published: Monday, December 18, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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PERTH, Australia (AFP):Australia retook the Ashes in spectacular fashion, forcing another devastating English batting collapse as they seized an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five Test series.

England, set a near-impossible 557 to win, seemed as if they might make a battle of it before yet another collapse at the crease, where they lost their last five wickets for just 14 runs against the Australian attack.

"We have been very good, there is no doubt about it," said elated Australian captain Ricky Ponting, who underlined the bitter taste left over after they lost the most famous cricket series in the world to England last year.

"We had a long time to think about it and get ourselves prepared for this series," Ponting said here on Monday.

"For the 14 months between series, we worked harder than I have ever seen this team work before, and all that hard work has come through in our play."

Australia wound up with a 206-run win on the final day of the third Test, setting off scenes of jubilation at the Waca Ground in Perth.

Set 557 to win after Australia declared at 527 for five late on the third day, England looked to have some hope of saving the match and the series.

They were 336 for five shortly before lunch, with both Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff at the wicket.

But champion leg-spinner Shane Warne struck once again, bowling Flintoff for 51 to spark the English collapse.

Warne ultimately ended the resistance two balls after lunch when he bowled Monty Panesar for one, leaving England all out for 350.

Warne claimed 4-115 from 39.2 overs in the England second innings to take his career tally to 699 Test wickets.

He now looks certain to become the first bowler to reach 700 Test wickets, which he should do in front of his home crowd at the fourth Test starting December 26 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The win gave Australia an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five-Test series, with two Tests, in Melbourne and Sydney, remaining.

There were jubilant scenes as the Australians atoned for losing the Ashes 2-1 in England in 2005.

England talisman Flintoff said losing the Ashes hurt deeply but conceded that Australia had been the superior side. He said England would be out to regain lost pride in the last two Tests.

"Full credit, they played some good cricket," Flintoff said.

"We have still got two to play and we are going to be playing for pride," he said. "That is one thing our team has a lot of and they will come back strong."

Pietersen (60 not out) and Flintoff started the final day with intent, the latter bursting out of a form slump with some aggressive shots as they built a partnership before lunch.

Although he lived dangerously at times, Flintoff hit a string of boundaries and a big six over mid-wicket off the bowling of Brett Lee.

He reached his half-century with an inside edge to the fine-leg boundary, before he played all around a fullish delivery from Warne and was clean bowled to end a 75-run stand.

It proved to be the end of the England fightback, with three more wickets falling in quick succession before the lunch break, which came with Australia needing just one more wicket to win.

Struggling wicketkeeper Geraint Jones surely handed his Test spot to understudy Chris Read when he went in bizarre circumstances for a duck shortly after Flintoff fell.

Jones missed with an attempted sweep at Warne and forgot to get back into his crease, with Ponting hitting the stumps with an underarm throw from silly mid-off.

It completed a pair for Jones and extended his run of ducks on tour to four.

Sajid Mahmood's miserable recall continued when he was adjudged lbw to Stuart Clark (2-56) for just four, while Steve Harmison was trapped lbw by Warne for a duck.

The England tail had wagged strongly on the second day, but there was to be no repeat.

In the end, the English fought desperately hard but blew their opportunity to stay in the series when their top order failed to fire on the second day of the game.

After dismissing Australia, who had won the toss and elected to bat, for just 244, England slumped to 128 for seven before being dismissed for 215.

Centuries to Adam Gilchrist, who hit the second-fastest Test hundred in history, Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke then put the home side in a commanding position.

Although Alastair Cook held the Australians at bay with a fighting century, the English had missed their chance.

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