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England tighten Ashes grip as 'gulf widens'

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    England's Joe Root celebrates after reaching his century during play on the third day of their second Ashes Test match against Australia, at Lord's cricket ground in north London, on July 20, 2013. (AFP)

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    Australia's captain Michael Clarke, seen during play on the third day of their second Ashes Test match against England, at Lord's cricket ground in north London, on July 20, 2013. (AFP)

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    Australia's players wait for a referral decision on a possible catch by Australia's Steven Smith (2nd L) off the batting of England's Ian Bell which is later given not out, during play on the third day of their second Ashes Test match, at Lord's cricket ground in north London, on July 20, 2013. (AFP)

Australian cricket commentators on Sunday were preparing for the worst, pointing to the widening gulf between Michael Clarke's team and England as the hosts tightened their grip on the second Ashes Test.

Joe Root's unbeaten 178 left Australia needing to make cricket history if they were to prevent England from going 2-0 up at Lord's with three Tests to play in the Ashes.

England were 333 for five in their second innings, a colossal lead of 566 runs, at stumps on the third day on Saturday. No Test team has ever won when faced with such a massive run chase in the fourth innings.

The Melbourne Age's Greg Baum summed up the Antipodean depression.

"As per advance notices, it is fast proving to be the worst cricket team of that name to visit these shores," Baum wrote.

"Trent Bridge (first Test) was thrilling, but was also misleading. Except for two freak 10th wicket partnerships, it would not have been even close. At Lord's, the gulf between the teams has been laid bare."

The Australian's Wayne Smith said Australia's cricketers used to be the masters of mind games, but those tactics were now being turned on them by England.

"It seems not that long ago that (former Australia captain) Steve Waugh used to speak so cold-bloodedly about grinding opposing sides, England most especially, into the turf, first breaking them physically, then mentally so that eventually they lost their will to resist," Smith said.

"Yesterday those same tactics were turned back on Australia as England slowly built on its first innings lead of 233 so that by stumps even fanciful talk of a world record run chase sold short how dire the situation has become for Australia."

Gideon Haigh, writing in the same newspaper, mocked Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland's claim that Australia was a different team under new coach Darren Lehmann following the sudden sacking of Mickey Arthur.

"Anyone, of course, can make a duff prediction, but if Sutherland genuinely believes that Australia is suddenly a 'different team' in a 'different place' then he is on a different planet," Haigh scoffed.

"What this second Test has shown in cruel relief is not just the diminished condition of Australian cricket but the wishful thinking that surrounds it -- thinking that is arguably now an obstacle to its restoration."

Television commentator Mark Nicholas, writing on the ESPN Cricinfo website, said: "The most obvious thing about state cricket in Australia at present is the amount of good cricketers but the absence of exceptional ones."

However, The Sunday Telegraph's Malcolm Conn said technology and umpiring decisions had gone against Australia.

"Technology and umpiring dominated this Ashes series yet again after Ian Bell appeared to be caught," Conn wrote.

"The low catch in the gully taken by Steve Smith looked clear watching from beyond the boundary and equally clear on replay.

"It looked such an obvious catch it is difficult to know why the umpires on the field could not make a decision .... Bell wasn't saved by technology but umpire Tony Hill's inability to use it properly."