Beware - the kraken stirs
Perth, Western Australia
For most of this Ashes series so far, England's cricketers have felt like they've been starring in a sequence of feel-good fantasy films - The Miracle of Vulture Street, Life Is Beautiful, The Wizards of Oz.
Friday was the day they woke up to find themselves in an old-fashioned horror flick.
Just 24 hours ago the Australian monster looked dead, slain with a stump through the heart and knife from its own media in the back. But just as England's players turned away, ready for the credits to roll, the beast came back to life.
First the tail twitched. Then the eyes opened, and the teeth were bared. By the time England had turned around, smiles freezing on faces, the brute was all over them.
From 78-0 and cruising an hour into the morning, England collapsed to 98-5. After staggering back to 182-6, they then lost their last four wickets for just six
England's previous six wickets had put on the small matter of 1,215 runs and when Australia were 69-5 just after lunch on Thursday, the series appeared almost safe.
Waking up in the UK over the past three weeks to check the cricket score has brought unprecedented dawn delight. It was wonderful in part precisely because it was so unexpected.
Deep down there was a dread fear it couldn't last. Pessimism is never far from the surface when you've witnessed the horrors of Trent Bridge '89, Perth '98 and Adelaide '06.
Sure enough, as last man James Anderson trudged off with England having shipped a first innings deficit of 81, pillows were being punched across the land.
This being 2010, there was time for another late twist in the plot. With the sun beating down and the home section of the sell-out Waca crowd in full beery voice, three Australian wickets fell quickly in the final session, including the prize scalp of Ricky Ponting for another tail-ender's score. Not every punter will leave this show entirely pleased with what they've seen.
An Aussie lead of 200 with seven wickets in hand and three sunny days in store before the final curtain keeps slim English hopes of a happy ending alive.
South Africa chased down 414 to beat Australia on this ground two years ago. But that was on a different pitch, under different conditions. Since then the entire Waca square has been re-laid by groudsman Cameron Sutherland. Those sort of fourth innings fight-backs don't happen very often.
The stand-out star, remarkably, was Mitchell Johnson, who in Brisbane had by some distance the worst game of his career - combined bowling figures of 0-170 to go with a duck with the bat, missed run-out of double-century maker Alastair Cook and dropped catch off England skipper Andrew Strauss.
Misery in Brisbane turned to redemption in Perth for Mitchell Johnson - photo: Reuters
Having been discarded for the second Test in Adelaide, his inclusion in the cast-list here brought mutterings of discontent from some local critics. But there was a logic to his selection not always present in the Australian picks this summer, and not only because December 17th is National Underdog Day.
Johnson averages 19.44 per wicket in Tests at Perth, compared to his career average of 29. In the first innings of that Test against South Africa two years ago, he had taken his lifetime best of 8-61 and at times looked close to unplayable.
His first spell this time around, tearing in from the Prindiville End, brought him four wickets for 20 runs in nine hostile overs. By the time he'd finished off the innings, wrapped in the back-slaps and embraces of his team-mates, he'd taken 6-38 off 17.
How could he turn his game around so quickly? When he stayed with the Australian team in Adelaide, working in the nets with bowling coach Troy Cooley rather than heading back to state cricket, many old pro's shook their head and muttered about proper practice in proper match conditions.
Others liked what they saw. Out-of-touch golfers rediscover their mojo on the driving-range and putting green, not in the majors. Why shouldn't cricketers do the same?
"I don't think Johnson has made a huge amount of technical changes," says England fast bowler Stuart Broad, guesting on Test Match Special as an expert summariser.
"His confidence is up because he got those runs (top score of 62) in their first innings, which made him feel past of the game. He's come out relaxed and just bowled without worrying about too much.
"The ball swung for him today, but that can be the difference in your wrist position of less than one centimetre.
"Bowling well is a feeling. He's a world-class bowler with a lot of Test match wickets, so it's not as if he became a poor bowler after the first Test match.
"I prefer to be out in the middle, working on getting wickets, feeling the ball go through fast. He just needed to groove a little technique, and he felt that was best done in the nets rather than in the middle. It's obviously worked for him.
"As a player, when you're feeling confident you forget about any technical issues or differences. You just run in fast, hit the pitch hard and bowl. Then you naturally fall back into the technique that works for you. As soon as you start thinking about technical issues, which happens when you're under pressure and not getting wickets, it puts you in the wrong position."
England played a part in their own downfall. When the runs flowed in the first hour, and Brad Haddin and Shane Watson stood motionless as a Strauss edge passed between them at pouching height, the talk was of 350 by the close and five wickets in hand. By Sunday night, said some, the Ashes would be retained.
But loose shots cost wickets. England's top order did exactly what local sages like Justin Langer warn you don't do at the Waca - drive at balls outside your eyeline, assume that because of the big bounce you can sit safely on the back foot to a fast bowler.
For the first time in nine days of cricket, Australia were the team who could crow come the close. And crow they did, at the back of every departing English batsman. Matt Prior might have turned to offer Johnson round the back of the dressing-room, but the round had already been lost.
A press release had been issued by a well-known Aussie bookmaker just before the start of the day's play. In it they boasted of already having paid out on England winning the Ashes - $400,000, to be precise.
Come Sydney in early 2011 it might yet prove a decent business decision. For now, the odds look a little more uncertain.