Sydney: England has all but secured its first Test series victory in Australia in 23 years after posting a record total and moving within three wickets of another innings victory in the final Test to cap its Ashes domination.
Matt Prior scored the third hundred of the England innings before the visitors were dismissed for 644 – their highest total ever in Australia - shortly after lunch on Thursday.
Then pacemen Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett took two wickets apiece to have Australia reeling on 213-7 at stumps on the penultimate day, needing another 151 runs just to make England bat again.
Allrounder Steven Smith (24) and tailender Peter Siddle (17) navigated the last 41 minutes of an extended evening session for Australia to ensure the match will go into the fifth and final day.
England, which had already retained the Ashes by taking a 2-1 lead with an innings victory at Melbourne last week, looks certain to claim a Test series Down Under for the first time since 1987.
The England seamers started to get reverse swing in the afternoon session and worked as a unit to frustrate Australia’s batsmen with disciplined line and length.
Shane Watson was first out, inexcusably run out for 38 after a mix-up with Phil Hughes that resulted in both batsmen at the same end.
Hughes (13) was caught behind off Bresnan as Australia slipped to 52-2 before tea. Anderson had debutant Usman Khawaja (21) and stand-in captain Michael Clarke (41) both caught behind by Matthew Prior before Bresnan chimed in again to have Mike Hussey (12) caught in the gully.
Tremlett took wickets with consecutive balls to remove Brad Haddin (30) and Mitchell Johnson for a first-ball duck before Siddle, who took a hat-trick in the series-opening Test at the Gabba, blocked the hat-trick ball from the lanky England paceman.
Haddin tried to play a bouncer but pulled out of the shot and lobbed an easy catch to Matthew Prior.
With England so close to securing victory in back-to-back Test matches in Australia for the first time since 1978-79, play was extended by 30 minutes to allow the bowlers time to finish it off. But Siddle and Smith, Australia’s last recognized batsman, played with composure to make it to stumps.
Australia needed quick wickets today to have any chance of winning at the Sydney Cricket Ground and leveling the five-match series, but the bowling attack had no penetration as England surpassed its previous highest total in Australia - the 636 which Wally Hammond’s lineup scored in the 1928-29 series at the SCG.
Alastair Cook (189) and Ian Bell (115) scored centuries on Wednesday and Prior continued the batting onslaught. The wicketkeeper-batsman scored 118 and shared a 102-run stand for the eighth wicket with Bresnan (35).
Graeme Swann finished unbeaten on a hard-hitting 36 when Tremlett was dismissed for 12, ending a 35-run last wicket stand.
The visitors resumed today at 488-7 after batting all day on Wednesday, when Cook took his series tally to 776 runs to become the second-highest English run scorer in an Ashes series in Australia. Hammond scored 905 in 1928-29.
Prior wasted no time reaching his fourth Test hundred, hitting Steven Smith for a boundary to bring up triple figures from 109 balls before he was caught behind chasing a wide Ben Hilfenhaus delivery.
Australia finally got the benefit of a TV umpire’s review, with umpire Billy Bowden referring Prior’s dismissal to the third official to check for a Hilfenhaus no-ball. After several minutes, the TV umpire Tony Hill ruled that part of Hilfenhaus’ front foot did touch down behind the crease. The Australians had a similar decision go against them when Cook was on 46 and miscued a catch off left-arm spinner. Bowden referred the decision to Hill, who adjudged a no-ball based on video replays.
Johnson conceded 20 runs in one over as Swann chased quick runs, another low point for the Australian attack in a demoralizing series. Johnson’s figures were 4-168 from 36 overs, while Hilfenhaus had 3-121.