Pitch imperfect but Australia reclaim Ashes

The Ashes are Australia's again. Not even a mysterious dampening of the pitch, nagging rain and a wild storm in Perth could stop them, let alone poor old England.

In the end it took Steve Smith and his men 15 days of cricket to claim the urn for only the second time in their past six Test series against England.

It was one more day than it took to dismantle the old enemy four years ago, but it was emphatic nonetheless. Smith, with his highest ever score and arguably his best Test innings, rose higher into the game's stratosphere in his first Ashes as captain and took Australia with him.

Discussions about another 5-0 whitewash can now formally begin.

"I'd love to do that," Smith said on Monday night. "I was part of the series back in 2013-14 when we did that. It was an amazing part of my life and everyone else's who was involved as well. I'd love to do that again. But we'll just take it one step at a time at the moment.

"We will worry about Melbourne when we get there. We are going to celebrate this one. It has been a hell of a couple of weeks."

The final day of the WACA's Test farewell was a juxtaposition of embarrassment and elation.

Australia's victory by an innings and 41 runs was wrapped up comfortably by tea on Monday, led by an outstanding Josh Hazlewood (5-48) and completed when Pat Cummins had Chris Woakes caught behind by Tim Paine.

There had been concerns earlier that they might not get a chance to finish England off at all when the state of the pitch was altered and the start of play was delayed in farcical circumstances.

Umpires Marais Erasmus and Chris Gaffaney explained that somehow seeped in through the covers and softened the pitch overnight. It left both camps agitated as leaf blowers were deployed by the wind-swept ground staff in a frantic effort to dry the surface.

The drama mounted with Australia desperate to get on and England, offered just the glimpse of a lifeline and a weather-inflicted draw, maintaining that the wicket was unacceptable for batting and bordering on dangerous.

The umpires demonstrated their diplomatic skills and were eventually convinced that the pitch was fit for play, although persistent showers then held back the start of play until 1pm local time (4pm AEDT).

In all, 28 overs were lost but if there was a concern that Australia's bowlers would not have enough time to take the remaining six wickets they evaporated quickly. Only 33 completed overs were needed by the hosts.

The WACA had the distinction of signing off as a Test venue as the scene of an Australian Ashes-winning triumph but the episode with the pitch was an inglorious exit from the stage.

"I think it was as shame that some water was able to get through the covers the first place at an international venue," Smith said.

"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. They deemed it fit to play and I supported their decision."

England captain Joe Root also did not want to use the fiasco as an excuse. "Looking back on it now, the pitch from those spots didn't really misbehave or become dangerous," Root said. "I think credit has to go to the umpires for making the right call at the start of the game.

"They gave it the opportunity to dry out and certainly when we got to the ground it wasn't fit to start. It's a very difficult one because they're in a position where there is obviously a lot of pressure to get the game going and at the same time you've got to make sure the safety of the players is paramount."

While Australia were over-joyed England were left contemplating a third innings defeat in a row in an away Test when scoring more than 400 runs in their first innings.

"It's bitterly disappointing," Root said of surrendering the Ashes. "One of the most frustrating things is we haven't been blown away. We've put up some really good performances, just for not long enough."

This story Pitch imperfect but Australia reclaim Ashes first appeared on The Age.