After spending three months trying to convince critics that the last Ashes series was much closer than it looked, Michael Clarke’s Australian squad did everything they could to ram home the point against England on Saturday.
Resuming at 65-0 and with a 224-run lead, Australia got centuries from Clarke and David Warner to lift its total to 401-7 before declaring with a 560-run lead, leaving England’s top order an hour to survive on day three.
Pacemen Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson, aided by a cooling breeze and gloomy, gathering clouds, then dismissed opener Michael Carberry (0) and No. 3 Jonathan Trott (9) to have England reeling at 10-2.
Captain Alastair Cook (11) and Kevin Pietersen (3), playing his 100th test, combined to help England reach stumps at 24-2.
Earlier, Michael Clarke’s Australians vowed to challenge England in the Ashes, and they backed it up on day three of the series.
Clarke (113) and David Warner (124) scored centuries and Brad Haddin (53) posted his second half century of the match before Australia declared its second innings at 401—7 late Saturday, setting England a target of 561 to win the first test.
The highest fourth-innings total to win a test match was the West Indies’ score of 418—7 against Australia in 2003.
England had an hour to navigate before stumps on Saturday and a further two days to bat in Brisbane, where Australia have not lost a test in 25 years.
Clarke and Warner both started the series under pressure, and both responded emphatically in the second innings.
Clarke was out just before tea at the Gabba, where he has scored five of his 25 test centuries, after sharing partnerships of 158 with Warner and 52 with George Bailey (34).
The Australians had a 159-run first-innings lead after scoring 295 and then skittling England for 136 on day two, including a stunning collapse of 6 wickets for nine runs in 58 balls.
The dominance of the ball wasn’t replicated on day three, with Clarke waiting until he had more than enough runs to declare the innings closed, ensuring the England players spent most of the day in the field.
The biggest successful fourth-innings chase at the Gabba was Australia’s 236—7 against the West Indies in 1951.
England scored 370 in the fourth innings of the 2006 test here but lost the game. In the corresponding test of the 2010 Ashes series, England scored 517—1 declared after giving up a first—innings lead in the drawn first test. Alastair Cook scored an unbeaten 235 in that innings, which set England on course to win the urn on Australian soil for the first time in 24 years. That was the second of England’s three consecutive Ashes series wins, a roll they have brought to Australia.
Warner hit 13 boundaries, a giant driven six which clattered into the sight screen to reach 124, but was out three balls later trying to run a ball from Stuart Broad down to third man and instead feathered a catch to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
The combative, 27-year-old left-hander lost his place for two tests on the last Ashes tour after a night club altercation with England batsman Joe Root and was later dropped from Australia’s limited—overs squad for a tour of India due to a lack of form.
But he scored four centuries in domestic cricket to secure selection for this series and has cemented his opening spot with two assured innings. He batted with composure in the first innings until an ill-judged shot to Broad ended in dismissal on 49.
Clarke responded to concerns over his susceptibility to the short ball with consecutive boundaries against Broad, who was reintroduced to the attack almost as soon as the Australian captain got onto strike. Clarke pulled a short ball for a boundary from near shoulder height and then hooked the next ball fine for another four to set up his innings. Broad had taken Clarke’s wicket six times in recent Ashes tests, including the Australian captain among his six victims in the first innings here.
But it was Clarke who got on top quickly on a ground where he has scored more than 1,000 test runs and averages above 100.