Rain, suspect pitch, no worries: Australia regains Ashes

Ground staff dry the pitch with blowers before the start of the final day of the Ashes cricket test match between England and Australia in Perth, Australia, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Trevor Collens)

PERTH, Australia (AP) Intermittent rain and a pitch left controversially soggy by overnight showers couldn’t delay the inevitable: Australia regained the Ashes from England with victory in the third cricket test at the WACA ground on Monday.

Steve Smith’s Australian side followed up its convincing victories in the first two tests in Brisbane (by 10 wickets) and Adelaide (120 runs) by winning the third by an even more emphatic margin of an innings and 41 runs to clinch the best-of-five series 3-0.

Needing to bat through the fifth and final day to salvage a draw and keep the series alive, England was all out for 218 after Perth’s fickle weather almost saved them.

The final day started two hours later than scheduled because of frequent showers and some wet patches on the pitch because the ground wasn’t covered properly overnight. Perth received more than twice its monthly rainfall for December in just 36 hours on Sunday and early Monday.

And from there, it was all about the state of the pitch.

England coach Trevor Bayliss, an Australian, questioned whether the wicket was fit for cricket, saying the leaky covers had made the pitch dangerous. Ground staff used blower vacuums in a bid to dry several damp patches, and play eventually got under way.

Smith joked that he had looked at the rain forecast on about 35 different websites the night before, but that he didn’t expect to see a rain-soaked pitch when the covers were taken off.

”I think it was a shame that some water was able to get through the covers in the first place at an international venue,” Smith said. ”But I feel that the umpires made the right call at the time to get us back on and play the game. The whole thing basically dried out and it was hard.”

Before play started, England captain Joe Root tried his best to convince the umpires that the pitch wasn’t up to test standards. But after the match, Root said the umpires followed the correct procedures.

”The pitch didn’t really, from those spots, didn’t really misbehave or become dangerous,” Root said. ”So I think credit has to go to the umpires for making the right call when to start the game.”

Australia paceman Josh Hazlewood ripped through England’s middle and lower-order batsmen to hasten the end once play got under way.

Hazlewood clean-bowled England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow for 14 with his first delivery of the day and then added the key wickets of Dawid Malan (54) and Craig Overton (12) to complete his first five-wicket haul in an Ashes test and finish with figures of 5-48.

Spinner Nathan Lyon (2-42) removed Moeen Ali for 11 before paceman Pat Cummins (2-53) dismissed Stuart Broad (0) and Chris Woakes (22) to seal Australia’s win just before the tea break.

”Very difficult to take, but fair play to Australia. They’ve outplayed us in all three games, and we’ve got to be better,” Root said.

England was seemingly in a strong position after racing to 368-4 in its first innings, but collapsed to be all out for 403.

Australia led by 259 runs after the first innings after compiling a daunting total of 662-9 on the back of a 301-run partnership from man of the match Smith (239) and recalled all-rounder Mitchell Marsh (181).

”That really set the game up for us, to get us in the lead. I’m just so proud of the boys, the way we’ve been able to wrap things up here in Perth and get that urn back,” Smith said.

The fourth test begins Dec. 26 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won the series 5-0 the last time the series was held in Australia in 2013-14, but lost 3-2 when the series was last played in England in 2015.