PERTH - Australia fought past a determined rearguard to seal their third big win in a row against old enemy England and regain the Ashes in emphatic style after a gap of four years Tuesday. In front of a delirious crowd at Perth's WACA ground, England's resistance came to an end after lunch on the last day as they were all out for 353, a deficit of 150 runs.
The victory, which followed wins of 381 and 218 runs in Brisbane and Perth, gave Australia an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five-match series and their first Ashes triumph in four attempts. It capped a remarkable turnaround for Australia, who were unfancied going into the series just months after a 3-0 loss in England. They also suffered defeats in 2009 and 2010-2011. "I don't really know what to say. We've got them back, I couldn't be happier," Clarke said of the Ashes, which are contained in a small ceremonial urn. "Credit to the team for how they played: they were outstanding." English rookie Ben Stokes, 22, frayed Australian nerves with a dogged 120, his maiden Test century, before he was caught brilliantly by Brad Haddin after lunch, triggering a clatter of England's last wickets.
Fittingly fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, whose destructive spells have played a large part in Australia's victory, took the decisive scalp when he had tail-ender James Anderson caught at short leg. England captain Alastair Cook, who on Monday was out for the first golden duck of his career in his landmark 100th Test, admitted the heavy series defeat was painful. "We have been outskilled in all aspects, and it is hard to say that. They have been ruthless. It hurts," Cook said. However, the pain may not be over for England as Clarke, now seeking a return to the world number one ranking for Australia, sets his immediate sights on a 5-0 whitewash.
"I am going to enjoy 3-0 for as long as I can tonight. I am going to enjoy this feeling, but I can guarantee you there won't be any complacency," he said. "We will turn up (for the next Test) in Melbourne 100 percent ready to go and be doing everything we have done in the first three Test matches."
Set a record 504 to win, England went to lunch on the final day at 332-6 after losing just one wicket in the morning session, that of Matt Prior for 26. Despite huge cracks on the parched WACA deck, and needing 172 more runs with only four wickets in hand, Stokes' rock-solid batting in just his second Test was tempting England to think the unthinkable.
However, Australia got the vital breakthrough when Stokes tried to sweep spinner Nathan Lyon (3-70) and got a thin bottom edge which was outstandingly held by wicketkeeper Haddin. It was the end of a superb knock by Stokes, who showed up his more senior team-mates by staying at the crease for 257 minutes and facing 195 balls, hitting 18 fours and one six, in England's first century of the series.
Lyon then picked up Graeme Swann for four, caught at short leg, before Johnson had Tim Bresnan (12) brilliantly caught by the diving Chris Rogers at mid-off. And the match was over when Johnson (4-78) claimed his 23rd wicket of the series, with Anderson popping up an easy catch to George Bailey.
England had resumed on their overnight score of 251-5, but New Zealand-born Stokes defied the Australian attack for the entire morning session, losing only Prior along the way. Stokes was temporarily denied a century when he drove Johnson straight and the ball deflected off the bowler's hand into umpire Marais Erasmus, costing him the two runs he needed to reach the milestone.
But he got a top edge to fine leg for a boundary from the next ball to notch his first Test century. Not for the first time in the series, it was Johnson who delivered a dagger to English hearts by removing Prior in his third over with the second new ball, ending a 76-run partnership with Stokes.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann, who inherited a divided and misfiring team when he took over earlier this year, said the players had executed his plans to perfection. "The way the players implemented plans, from batsman one to 11, was exceptional," Lehmann said. "We've played some good cricket, but they (England) have had opportunities as well. I think (in the last series) in England we lost those key moments, here we've won them."
AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS: 385
ENGLAND 1ST INNINGS: 251
AUSTRALIA 2ND INNINGS: 369-6 decl
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 c Haddin b Lyon 120
Matt Prior c Haddin b Johnson 26
Tim Bresnan c Rogers b Johnson 12
Graeme Swann c Smith b Lyon 4
Stuart Broad not out 2
J Anderson c Bailey b Johnson 2
EXTRAS: (b13, lb13, w6) 32
TOTAL: (all out, 103.2 overs) 353
FOW: 1-0, 2-62, 3-76, 4-121, 5-220, 6-296, 7-336, 8-347, 9-349, 10-353
BOWLING: Harris 19-2-73-1, Johnson 25.2-6-78-4, Lyon 22-5-70-3, Siddle 26-11-67-1, Watson 11-1-39-1
UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus (RSA), Billy Bowden (NZL)
TV UMPIRE: Tony Hill (NZL)
MATCH REFEREE: Jeff Crowe (NZL)