PERTH - Rookie Ben Stokes kept England's faint hopes alive with his maiden Test half-century as the visitors fought to save the Ashes series against a rampant Australia Monday. Set an improbable 504 to win, England were 251 for five at stumps on day four, still 252 runs behind with just five wickets in hand on a heavily cracked Perth pitch.
Stokes, playing in just his second Test, was providing resistance on 72, with wicketkeeper Matt Prior on seven and all of England's top order back in the pavilion. Australia will be heavily favoured to mop up England's tail on the final day and regain the famous Ashes urn for the first time since 2007 after their big wins in Brisbane and Adelaide.
But senior England batsman Ian Bell said all hope was not yet lost. "We are still hanging in there, that is the important thing," Bell said. "We need to take tomorrow as deep as we can and keep playing some shots. The two guys that are out there now need to bat until lunch and we need to keep fighting." Bell conceded Australia had outplayed England in all facets on the game so far in the series.
"We are hugely disappointed and we haven't shown anyone the kind of cricket that we can potentially play," he said. "Hats off to Australia, they have batted better than us, they've caught better than us and they have bowled better than us." All-rounder Shane Watson, who thrashed his fourth Test century earlier in the day, said the Australians were trying not to think how close the Ashes were away, but were extremely confident with the new ball just 13 overs away.
"This is a special moment for everyone in the Australian team, to be in the position that we are," he said. "But we know that the English are always going to fight until the end." Most of the lingering optimism for England dried up after tea, when Kevin Pietersen again fell to a rash shot and then Bell was given out on a successful decision review by the home side.
After a catastrophic day for the tourists on Sunday, when they conceded a big lead to the Australians, things only got worse on day four. Watson and George Bailey humiliated the England attack before Australia declared on 369 for six, making England the first team to be set a target of more than 500 in three successive Tests.
England's chase got off to a disastrous start when captain Alastair Cook fell for a golden duck, the first of his 100-Test career, from the first ball of their second innings. Cook, clean-bowled by a beauty from Ryan Harris, also became the first player to suffer the ignominy of a first-ball duck in their centenary match.
Fellow opener Michael Carberry again looked solid, but was trapped lbw by Shane Watson for 31, while Joe Root defended grimly for 125 minutes before being caught behind off Mitchell Johnson for 19. Root called for a review but it showed a clear edge through to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who took a fine diving catch.
Pietersen looked in good touch in cruising to 45, but yet again fell victim to a rush of blood as he advanced down the wicket to spinner Nathan Lyon and tried to loft him down the ground for six, as he had done in the previous over. Instead, he got under the ball and hit it high to long-off, where Harris remained composed and took a safe catch.
Bell and Stokes set about trying to rescue the cause, putting on 99 for the fifth wicket before Bell, on 60, was adjudged caught behind on the evidence of the "snickometer" audio technology. Umpire Marais Erasmus initially turned down the appeal, but Australia's decision to risk its second decision review paid off when "snicko" revealed an edge as Bell flashed at a short ball outside off stump.
One positive for England was the batting of Stokes, who played some fine drives and looked undaunted by the pressure. By stumps he had faced 96 balls, hitting 12 boundaries. Earlier in the day, Australia declared their second innings at 369 for six after fireworks from Watson, who took just 40 balls to race from his overnight score of 29 to his fourth Test century, and Bailey, who equalled Brian Lara's Test record with 28 runs off one over -- from Jimmy Anderson.
With the injured Stuart Broad absent from the attack, England missed three catches as Australia belted 134 runs in 17 overs, with Watson making 103 and Bailey an unbeaten 39.
AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS: 385
ENGLAND 1ST INNINGS: 251
AUSTRALIA 2ND INNINGS:
Chris Rogers c Carberry b Bresnan 54
David Warner c Stokes b Swann 112
Shane Watson run out 103
Michael Clarke b Stokes 23
Steve Smith c sub b Stokes 15
George Bailey not out 39
Brad Haddin c Swann b Bresnan 5
Mitchell Johnson not out 0
EXTRAS: (b8, lb5, w5) 18
TOTAL: (6 wkts dec; 87 overs) 369
FOW: 1-157, 2-183, 3-223, 4-301, 5-331, 6-340
BOWLING: Anderson 19-5-105-0, Bresnan 14-3-53-2, Stokes 18-1-82-2, Swann 27-8-92-1, Root 9-1-24-0
ENGLAND 2ND INNINGS:
Alastair Cook b Harris 0
Michael Carberry lbw Watson 31
Joe Root c Haddin b Johnson 19
Kevin Pietersen c Harris b Lyon 45
Ian Bell c Haddin b Siddle 60
Ben Stokes not out 72
Matt Prior not out 7
EXTRAS: (b1, lb11, w5) 17
TOTAL: (5 wkts, 67 overs) 251
FOW: 1-0, 2-62, 3-76, 4-121, 5-220
BOWLING: Harris 10-1-51-1, Johnson 15-3-52-1, Lyon 15-2-49-1, Siddle 18-6-56-1, Watson 9-1-31-1
UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus (RSA), Billy Bowden (NZL)
TV UMPIRE: Tony Hill (NZL)
MATCH REFEREE: Jeff Crowe (NZL)