If England is fair dinkum, now is the time to show it
Date: December 13, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
So far, given its number two status in the world rankings, England has been insipid.
If it does not fire up at the WACA Ground it will again be swept aside by a team that most felt, prior to this series, would struggle.
The tourists have been totally outplayed across the opening two Tests which have resulted in resounding defeats of 381 and 218 runs.
England has to at least draw the match at Perth – which given the way it has been playing that would be as good as a win.
Failure to do so will see the little urn change hands.
Even the most ardent and myopic of Australian fans could not have dreamt that the Ashes could find a new home after just three matches.
But that is the stark reality that faces Alastair Cook and his team given the sub-standard performances so far.
Recently appointed WACA Ground curator, Matthew Page has said that the pitch is hard and true and with the baking sun – it is tipped to be at least 37 degrees for each of the scheduled five days – it will provide good pace, bounce and carry for the quicks throughout the match.
That is hardly going to be welcome news to England but it is not unexpected.
Perth has been a graveyard for England sides over the years with its last win at the iconic fast bowler’s paradise coming during the time of the World Series breakaway in 1978-79.
Since then there have been two draws and seven losses – the smallest in terms of runs being 138 and in terms of wickets, seven.
By no means orphans, England has struggled with the steepling bounce that is so foreign on its home pitches.
At the Gabba four batsmen were caught at short leg trying to cope with the extra lift.
Even more concerning has been the number of batsmen who have been dismissed to horizontal bat shots backward of square leg – three at Brisbane and five at Adelaide.
It is perhaps reasonable at times to fight fire with fire but on too many occasions shot selection has been found wanting.
There will be no respite from the short-pitched stuff at the WACA Ground.
Either England finds a way to cope with it or it will be yet another one-sided outcome.
One of the leading problems facing the tourists is the form of its skipper with Cook so far contributing scores of 13, 65, 3 and 1.
Since the start of the Ashes series in England in July he has averaged 25.6 in his 14 knocks against Australia.
It will take considerable mental fortitude for him to overcome his own deficiencies with the willow while also trying to hold together a team that is obviously low on confidence.
England will have to make at least one change to its bowling stocks with one of the spinners – Graeme Swann or Monty Panesar – giving way to a pace bowler.
It is unlikely that Swann – with 252 career wickets at 29.7 – will be cut but in this series he has had little effect having picked up four wickets across the two Tests at 99.2.
Panesar has not fared much better – in his only start, at Adelaide, he returned figures of 2-198.
However, he does have form at the WACA Ground.
Despite being a so-star in many highlights package from the 2006-07 Test where Adam Gilchrist went berserk, he did capture eight wickets for the match, including 5-94 in the first innings against Australia at its peak.
Given the oppressive conditions that are forecast England will surely go with at least one spinner and retain Ben Stokes at number six.
But who comes in as the fourth seamer?
It appears Tim Bresnan is the favourite but his inclusion will raise questions over the selection of the initial squad.
There were three back-up pacemen chosen in the touring party – Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin.
The trio are all extremely tall which would indicate that there was a belief that ‘bounce bowlers’ could prove troublesome for the Australian batting line-up.
Bresnan was not a member of the initial squad as he was recovering from stress fractures in his back.
The selectors went with Tremlett at Brisbane before he made way for Panesar at Adelaide.
If Bresnan is included it is difficult to see Tremlett, Finn or Rankin making an appearance in either Melbourne or Sydney.
Stuart Broad has carried the England attack with 11 wickets at 23.
It is time for James Anderson to step up.
The second most prolific wicket-taker in England’s Test history, he has taken his five wickets in this series at 48.8.
While England has its concerns for Australia it is a case of steady as she goes.
For the third successive Test the hosts will go in with the same XI.
It is a luxury that it has not been afforded in recent times.
Three batsmen have made a half-century – Shane Watson (51), Chris Rogers (72) and George Bailey (53) – but have done little else.
Steve Smith has been struggling with 60 runs at 20.0.
That quartet needs to do something more substantial in the back-end of this series to warrant their ongoing selection.
On exposed form it is hard to make a case for England over the next five days.
But whatever happens, for the sake of English cricket, it has to put up a more substantial effort this time around.
For a side that arrived on our shores having not lost a Test in 14 starts and was eyeing a fourth consecutive Ashes victory it has been limp in its performance.
If the players have pride in their cap they need to produce something other than the lacklustre showings they have dished up to date.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 12 December 2013