The target was always going to be tough even though the required run rate was always well within England's compass: 391 runs were required for victory from approximately 210 overs and no rain forecast.
The English optimist could look wistfully to recent history. Two years ago at Perth in a match where Mitchell Johnson had run riot in the first innings with 8-61, South Africa knocked off the small matter of 414 runs for the loss of just four wickets. Cracks may appear at the Waca but the soil seldom disintegrates. But that was where the optimism ran dry.
This pitch has always had more life than the one, which left Ricky Ponting so disgusted two years ago after Australia's defeat to South Africa. And by the close of play on Saturday England had stumbled to a wretched 81-5, 310 runs short of their target. During that final session Australia had imposed themselves upon the English batsmen in a manner that conjured so many echoes of the last twenty years.
For the second time in the game the middle-order had been swept away in a session. No, this was not the worst Australian side in living memory. They have scented their chance in this match ever since Johnson caused his devastation on Friday morning. Since then the tourists have been clinging on by their finger-tips. By Saturday night they were down to their nails.
This time the spoils were shared by the Australian pacemen. In the sixth over of England's innings Alastair Cook was surprised by the skiddiness of Ryan Harris and given lbw.
By now Ricky Ponting had already introduced Johnson and though his first over yielded nine runs, it was evident that the force remained with him. As in the first innings the run-up was smooth and unhurried. There was more pace and less swing than on Friday and he was still a handful. In his third over Johnson found the edge of Andrew Strauss's bat and Ponting took the catch cleanly at second slip.
Kevin Pietersen, in passive mode, then waved at an away-swinger from Ben Hilfenhaus to give the burly Tasmanian only his second wicket of the series. For a while Jonathan Trott and Paul Collingwood hinted that England might be able to reach the close with no further damage, but the Australians were rampant again in the final ten minutes.
First Trott sparred at a short ball from Johnson. It sped to Ponting, who could not take this catch cleanly. The ball bobbled in the air and Brad Haddin collected it. Then in the final over from Harris, Collingwood, still lodged on the crease, edged to third slip, where Steve Smith calmly took the catch.
Earlier, England managed to dismiss Australia for 309.
Mike Hussey, yet again, was the rock for Australia. He hit his second century of the series in front of an adoring crowd on his own turf. He now has 517 runs in the series at an average of 103 and here England probably only dismissed him because he was stranded with the last man again.
Hussey remains the antidote to all the calls to give youth a chance. An Australian win in Perth would put those calls on hold. The immediate future would dictate the selectors' thoughts. Any fancy plans can wait until the destination of the Ashes is decided.
Shane Watson, so strong on the drive through the covers as well as eager for the meaty cut and pull, looked destined for his third Test century. But Watson has a problem in the 90s. Having batted impeccably he missed a straight ball from Chris Tremlett. GNS