Australia seamer Josh Hazlewood expects the hosts to reclaim the Ashes by wrapping up victory in the third Test on Monday after rain afforded England a stay of execution in Perth.
Steve Smith’s team ended day four just six wickets short of an unassailable 3-0 series lead, having reduced England to 132-4 before play at the Waca was prematurely halted.
The tourists’ hopes appear to rest on further heroics from first-innings centurions Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow but, with 127 more runs needed to make Australia bat again, Hazlewood is optimistic that England will not offer significant resistance.
“We feel pretty close but we’re never too sure unless it happens. We’re pretty confident. Hopefully we can finish them off,” he said.
“I think we’re in a pretty good position. I think we would have loved one more [wicket] but they have lost the wickets at the tail pretty quickly throughout the whole series.”
Former captain Alastair Cook and current skipper Joe Root continued their miserable series with just 14 runs each while opener Mark Stoneman managed just three. He and Cook both fell to Hazlewood.
“We’re very happy,” he added. “We put importance on those wickets as it applies pressure to the middle order, the guys who are a bit more inexperienced. We have plans for Root and Cook and have done well against them.”
Only James Vince offered resistance among the top order with a classy 55 before he departed to a lethal Mitchell Starc delivery that veered off a crack and shied the England batsman’s off stump.
Malan (28 not out) and Bairstow (14 not out) stand between Australia and an England tail that added just 22 runs in the first innings. More rain is expected, but Vince is drawing little comfort from the forecast.
“We try to put the rain to the back of our minds. A couple of days ago today was supposed to be more of a washout. I haven’t seen a huge amount of rain during the time I’ve been in Perth,” he said.
“The two guys at the crease spent a lot of time there in the first innings in slightly different conditions, but we’ve got to have belief that we can stay in the series and get over the line.”
Paceman James Anderson had earlier taken four wickets (4-116), including Mitchell Marsh (181) and captain Smith (239) both lbw inside the first five overs of the day, but Australia still amassed their biggest total in a home Ashes Test match.
England’s task was made even more difficult after it emerged that Craig Overton has aggravated a rib injury and could miss the rest of the series.
Fellow seamer Stuart Broad, who returned career-worst figures of 0-142, may need surgery on a knee problem after the tour.