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Bailey smashes 28 off Anderson over

George Bailey smashes 28 runs including the biggest six of the morning during James Anderson's over on Monday.

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Consider these consecutive balls at the WACA Ground on Monday and the way they represent a microcosm of what has become of this Test match and series.

The first was from Jimmy Anderson, an England fast bowling great, to George Bailey, an Australian neophyte, who blithely drove it back over Anderson's head for the third six of an over in which Bailey took Anderson for 28, equal to the most in Test history. It completed, to Michael Clarke's satisfaction, Australia's innings and Anderson's humiliation.

The next ball was from Ryan Harris to Alastair Cook, renowned player of long innings, prodigious maker of Test centuries, and England's captain. It swung, straightened and hit that grail of all seam bowlers, the top of off-stump. The bail jumped, as if someone had said boo, but it was Cook who looked as if he had seen a ghost.

Alastair Cook is bowled for a golden duck at the start of England's chase of 504.

Alastair Cook is bowled for a golden duck at the start of England's chase of 504. Photo: Getty Images

The first rounded off a Munchausenian morning in which Australia added 134 in 79 minutes, and Shane Watson rampaged from 29 overnight to a century in just 42 balls, including three straight-driven sixes in a single over from Graeme Swann, series winning off-spinner in England just four months ago.

The second set back - literally before it began - England's two-day cause for surviving and arriving in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test with a detectable pulse. The balance of the Test became a vigil on England's nine remaining wickets. If anything, the Australian team has done its job too well; authorities will only half-thank them for deadening the summer's biggest and most lucrative rubber.

Aficianados of Test cricket prefer it because, more surely than in shorter forms, each act has meaning beyond its fact. What then to construe from madding Monday?

Australia's Peter Siddle (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England's Ian Bell Click for more photos

Third Ashes Test, Perth, day four

Australia's Peter Siddle (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of England's Ian Bell Photo: Reuters

This: that Watson, when free in the mind and able to hit with impunity, remains a scintillating and devastating striker of a cricket ball. Butch Harman would have been proud of the way he turned his hips and moved his weight through the ball, and this one, unlike a golf ball, was bouncing and moving at him, briskly. Upon attaining his hundred, Watson stood mid-pitch, arms imperiously raised, the Colossus of Rhodes.

Or at least a colossus of roads. For there was also this: that a Test cricketer rarely gets to play so free of constraints, and that those constraints, invisible and powerful, are what shape and fascinate about Test cricket. Without them, all would always hit like Watson and Bailey on Monday, and bowl like Mitch Johnson all series, and we would all holler without differentiation and go home and soon forget. Test cricket would be Houdini's show without the straitjacket.

Even Watson's wicket, though inconsequential, was pure Watto. Upon skying Tim Bresnan, he stood and watched in self-absorption as Ian Bell dropped a sitter, whereupon Bresnan picked up the ball and ran him out. So the enigma of Watson again was enlarged, and goes on.

How that Test straitjacket pinched and chafed on Kevin Pietersen's vast ego at the day's other crucial juncture. When he lofted Nathan Lyon over long-on, he had Australia's attack at his mercy. Instead, he tried to show off by doing it again, and after a clock-able eternity was caught by the redoubtable Harris. England's other batsmen made Australia winkle for their wickets. With orthodox strokes against a tiring attack, Bell and admirable tyro Ben Stokes proceeded at six an over. But that was not enough for KP, and a country he knows as England suffered for it.

This also we affirmed this day: when invited by circumstances to play in one-day mode, Bailey swung as lustily and effectively as Watson. But when trying to play as a Test batsman 10 minutes earlier, he sometimes was a tangle of legs and arms, and the foreman of the jury would have shaken his head. He personifies the certainty that as dominant as Australia has been in this series, it is far from the finished and polished article.

There was this, too: in no other game does demoralisation assume such a physical aspect. England came into this series and game with the best of intentions, but by Monday morning were as crushed as a truckload of screenings. This showed in fielding slapstick, forgoing six chances. Bell and Anderson let a catch fall between them. Bell, after dropping Watson, stalked away and in his self-loathing did not see that Watson was run out anyway. It was unTest cricket.

By contrast, Australia sustained its effort in the field, in the face of the first signs of fatigue and what belatedly became England's stoutest resistance of the series. Each bowler took a wicket, as if by lots; it has been that way throughout. No catch or ground ball escaped. Here was more meaning: holding the Ashes matters, regaining them matters even more.