sport

Strauss: Big step for Stokes

Ben Stokes proved he has the temperament to forge a long-term career as England's number six, says Andrew Strauss.

Durham all-rounder Stokes scored his maiden fifty on day four of the third Test - a rare positive for the tourists on another chastening day as Australia blitzed their way to 369-6 declared, led by Shane Watson's powerful 103 off 108 balls.

By stumps England, set an unlikely 504 runs to win, had slipped to 251-5 despite a fifth-wicket stand of 99 between Stokes (72no) and Ian Bell (60).

Still needing another 253 runs to win, Australia appear on track to regain the Ashes on Tuesday with a third straight win.

Former skipper Strauss told Sky Sports that at least England's batsmen had shown greater intent on day four.

"There has been a completely different mind-set," he reflected. "In some ways it's as though the England batsmen have gone 'it can't get any worse, we might as well go out and play a few shots'.

"Kevin Pietersen (45 off 57) started it off - he played in an aggressive manner. He got out in that same manner but we saw Ian Bell and Ben Stokes play really, really well. I thought it was an outstanding innings from Stokes.

"We said that he's got to prove that he can score fifties at number six and he's done that now. Now can he prove that he can score hundreds and big hundreds?

"He's made a really important step today. He's proved to himself that he can bat at this level which is as important as anything.

"He was so far out of his comfort zone - away from Durham, playing on the quickest wicket in world cricket in Perth. But he's a great hitter of the ball, he's a very good timer of it.

"What we didn't know is 'can he construct an innings?' I think he proved to us that he can do that. He just needs to go on tomorrow and get that hundred.

"If he does that's a big moment for him and Prior needs to get runs desperately. Hopefully England can get somewhere close."

Bell - man of the series in England's 3-0 victory over Australia this summer - followed up his unbeaten 72 in the first innings at Adelaide with his second fifty of the series, striking seven fours and a six in a fluent 93-ball knock.

Strauss said that the manner in which both Bell and Pietersen batted only served to show just what England could have achieved with a different mind-set.

"Ian Bell always looks good; he always looks in control of proceedings," said Strauss. "In the first innings he batted very slowly but he came out in the second determined to change tempo.

"It's frustrating that England didn't play more like this earlier in the series because for the first time the Australian bowlers looked devoid of ideas. That's a regret that England will have - that they haven't done more of this over the course of the series.

"Kevin Pietersen tried to grind it out in the first innings - that's just not him. You don't want to see him playing like that. You want to see him playing extravagant shots.

"He was pretty controlled for the majority of his innings; he picked the right balls to play and whacked Nathan Lyon down the ground a few times.

"He just got a bit giddy at the end. With a man out, did he need to take the risk to hit that big shot down the ground? But by and large it was good to see him playing that way."