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3rd Ashes Test, Perth: It’s Do or Die for England

“My prediction is an optimistic 2-2, although I am feeling 3-1 to England.” – Monday November 18th 2013

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Many, like myself anticipated that Australia would have a stronger performance on home soil, but few would have predicted that the Ashes could be decided in just the third test through such a dominant display.

There will always be those who claim that they ‘called it’, but they are probably the same crop of people who magically pick the trifecta at the Melbourne Cup each year. The amount of people that I hear of bragging each year about winning big, sometimes you really have to wonder how the bookies make any money on the first Tuesday of November each year…

Anyway, the point is that Australia have exceeded all expectations by playing outstanding cricket, spearheaded by a ruthless bowling attack which has gelled together as a unit and capitalised on an uncharacteristic batting performance from the English. Of course, due credit must be given to the role that the Australian batsmen have played so far in the series. In particular the way that Warner, Clarke and Haddin have stood up, led from the front and made runs has been one major difference between the two sides. The other has been the fact that Australia have taken their chances and capitalised on this by taking multiple wickets in quick succession, fielding exceptionally and stopping middle order collapses which previously plagued them during the last series in England. This has effectively turned the tide of the both tests in vital periods of the match just as England did to retain the Ashes a few months ago at home.

Coming into the Perth test, the English camp needs to be in ‘red alert’ given the ‘do or die’ scenario tasked before them to retain the Ashes. If it hasn’t already yet been as critical, the English team needs to be focused and ready to play the high quality and tough brand of cricket they are very capable of doing. This is what I expected the English team to sort out in the week and a half break between the Brisbane and Adelaide tests, I thought that there was no way that England could possibly be beaten again like they were in Brisbane. However they were once again outclassed by an Australian outfit who dominated all facets of the game in Adelaide and it just seems as though the English are missing the big performances needed from Cook, Pietersen and Anderson which has swung previous Ashes series into their favour. With such a short break between tests, from an English point of view, you would hope that the English team has worked towards solving a number of key issues which have arisen on tour in order to try and salvage the series. In short, England need:
Runs from Cook and Pietersen because somebody needs to support Ian Bell! Anderson to get aggressive, bowl a bit quicker and swing the ball. This was his formula for success when he took the most wickets in the 2010/11 Ashes series

Swann to rethink his plans and approach towards the Australian batsmen because they are not the best players of spin and especially when Swann gets his line right he causes them a lot of trouble. This being said, don’t ask too much of Swann in Perth but he should be a massive danger for the Australians in Melbourne and Sydney.
If England can get their key senior players out of this slump, I still think that they may need a miracle to win or even draw this test in Perth given that traditionally the WACA wicket will deliver plenty of pace and bounce, playing right into the hand of the Australian pace attack. It must be remembered that even at the height of the English Ashes dominance in the 2010/11 series, the Australians still won in Perth with quality spells from Mitchell Johnson (6/38) and Ryan Harris (6/47). Add to this that Australia has won 8 out of 12 Ashes tests in Perth, and England’s last win at the venue was in 1978 against a World Series Cricket depleted Australian test team and you have all of the odds stacked against the English.

As Gideon Haigh expressed on Inside Cricket, the fact is that Perth presents such alien conditions for the English means that it is very difficult to adjust and play good cricket, heightened even more by the fact that the forecast is set for three days of 38 degree heat, followed by 39 degrees for day four and a cool 35 degrees for day five. As for tactics, if either captain wins the toss, expect them to bat first because the pitch is not just a fast bowler’s paradise. In actuality, the WACA wicket can offer a lot for the batsmen with a genuinely quick outfield which ensures great value for shots if the batsmen can get their eye in, settle at the crease and adjust to the unique bounce.

Given the conditions, there is always the consideration about playing four fast bowlers and leaving out a spinner. However both teams have a seam bowler batting in the top six (Shane Watson and assuming that Ben Stokes plays) so it seems likely that Nathan Lyon will continue his supporting role in the Australian attack, and despite a lack of form Graeme Swann should play instead of Monty Panesar. This was the opinion of former English captain Andrew Strauss who stressed that with the extreme heat forecast, it would be hard to leave a spinner out.

For England, if they do play Graeme Swann then you would imagine that Ben Stokes becomes the fourth fast bowler and it is likely that Tim Bresnan comes into the side. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the English in desperation to save the series, gamble on the conditions and play either Jonny Bairstow or Gary Ballance at six, and four fast bowlers. If they were to go down this path, I’d select Bresnan and Rankin given that England are going to need Bresnan to swing the ball, and could use the pace and bounce of Rankin rather than Finn or Tremlett because they have been out of touch recently.
As for Australia, despite a Harris injury scare leaving Doug Bollinger and Nathan Coulter-Nile on standby, expect the same eleven to play given that James Faulkner broke his thumb in the WACA nets yesterday. I think that if Faulkner was fit, he might have been selected instead of Nathan Lyon because England have struggled against the left armers and it broadens Australia’s armoury with five seamers all with differing styles. This being the case, Smith, Warner or Clarke could have offered a spin option but nevertheless Australia will still have four seamers a few spinners to use in the original eleven. Obviously there will be no changes to the Australian top six, however I think that this will be a massive test for Chris Rogers, Steven Smith and George Bailey to perform given the top quality shield form from the likes of Phillip Hughes and Alex Doolan.

Overall, I expect Australia once again to dominate this test given how much the conditions suit the Australian pace attack and especially Mitchell Johnson with the bounce. The pressure is firmly on the English, and in particular Cook, Pietersen and Swann to perform and extend the series however it seems as though they are fighting an uphill battle.

Congratulations to Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook on reaching their 100th test match, both very high quality players and you can expect in ten years time that these names will be synonymous with the greats of the game given what they have achieved already. Also during the tea break on day one, Adam Gilchrist will be inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame at the same ground he scored a memorable century off just 57 balls against England in 2006.

Here is some footage of the over he went to town on Monty Panesar, the channel 9 commentary team are joined by Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler from the WWE…

[youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QvCQbs9BBk”]

Video: The Maiden Over (YouTube)

Article by Tim Wray (@Wray24)

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