Adam Gilchrist posted the second-fastest century in test history, eclipsing centuries by Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke, as Australia and oppressive heat melted England's Ashes hopes on the third day of the third cricket test at the WACA Ground on Saturday.
Gilchrist reached his 17th century in tests from 57 balls with 12 fours and four sixes, failing by only one ball to match Viv Richards' 56-ball century for the West Indies against England at St John's 20 years ago.
His century was the fastest in test cricket by an Australian batsman, surpassing Jack Gregory's 67-ball hundred against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1922 and he dashed to the mark in only 98 minutes, within a single session.
Gilchrist gave Australia's innings a crazy impetus which allowed it to declare its second innings at 527 for five at 6.25pm, with a lead of 556 runs, with half an hour remaining in the day and with two full days still yawning ahead of England.
Its task of surviving those two days, in a match in which 24 wickets fell in the first eight sessions, seemed hopeless by stumps, made moreso when it lost opener Andrew Strauss to the fourth ball of its second innings.
England was 19 for one at the close of play and the Ashes, held by England for only 15 months the shortest tenure in their 124-year history seem certain to return to Australia who lead the five-test series 2-0.
Coach Duncan Fletcher vowed Saturday that England would fight on. "We face a very, very difficult challenge but individuals will have to come here and do their best," he said.
"We've got to give credit to Adam Gilchrist. He came in and batted magnificently. He can do that. He can take the game away from you in an hour and he had two very, very good hours." Clarke was left 135 not out when Australian captain Ricky Ponting made his bold declaration.
Hussey made 103, Matthew Hayden scored 92 and Ponting contributed 75 as England toiled in the field through a draining day on which temperatures, in the exposed oval, reached a measured 53 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit).
No precedent exists in cricket history for a team accomplishing the run chase England has been set, nor do teams as tremulous as the tourists bat for two days under pressure to force draws. The West Indies, three years ago, scored 418 for 7 against England at St Johns to set a world record for a successful fourth innings run chase. Australia, who scored 342 for eight to beat India at Perth 30 years ago, own the record winning fourth innings total at the WACA.
On any normal day, Clarke's unbeaten 135 and Hussey's 103 would have been central features of the match; outstanding innings in their own right, heavily impregnated with significance. Gilchrist swept them from prominence with one of test cricket's most extraordinary centuries.
He had been under pressure to hold his place in the Australia team as his batting form waned and only his 64 in Australia's first innings at Adelaide kept his head above a tide of criticism. He reached his half century from only 40 balls the fastest 50 by an Australian batsman in an Ashes test then he set off at even greater pace toward three figures.
His 50 came with a two from the second ball of an over in which he plundered 24 runs from Monty Panesar, with three sixes and two fours, and he went from 50 to 80 in six balls.
He remained on target for the fastest-ever test century when he reached 97 from 54 balls, needing a four to set a new record, but he missed the crucial delivery from Matthew Hoggard, took a single then reached his 100 from his 57th ball.
Gilchrist admitted later he had no idea he had such a close brush with history.
"I've never known what the fastest test century is to be honest," he said.
"I would have guessed that Viv Richards was in the mix somewhere but those sort of records are more associated with one-day cricket. If I knew I needed four to get it I might have had a whiff at that wide one from Matthew Hoggard."
Hussey reached his first Ashes 100, the fifth hundred of his stellar career, from a comparatively sober 148 balls, with 12 fours. He has now scored five centuries and nine half centuries from 24 innings in 14 tests: a total of 1554 test runs at an average of 86.3.
His contributions to this Ashes series have been scores of 86, 91, 61 not out, 74 not out and 103 or 415 runs at an average of 138.3.
Clark reached his fourth test century and his second of the series. His scores of 56, 124, 21 not out, 37 and 135 not out give him an average of 124.3.