For all of the brave talk that has come out of the England camp by Joe Root and Trevor Bayliss following Australia‘s 120 run second Test win in Adelaide, the reality is that England could be heading for a 5-0 whitewash.
It was a well-known fact that England’s best chance to win and also change the momentum of the Ashes was in Adelaide and they made an almighty cock-up in the first two days. As exciting as it was to see England fight back admirably on day’s three and four, Australia were always odds on to bowl England out.
There is truth in the notion that England have competed hard against Australia, but they have not done it for nearly long enough to make it count. The statistics do not lie, Australia have made the centuries, converted useful 20s and 30s into more substantial scores and all of their bowlers have taken wickets at key times.
We keep hearing the need for England’s batsmen to show more mental application but we have been hearing this for the last couple of years. I agree with Jonathan Agnew’s assessment in his BBC section, which echoed Nathan Lyon’s less-than-subtle comments on the eve of the first test in Brisbane, that England careers could be on the line if this trend continues.
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The likes of Mark Stoneman, Craig Overton and Dawid Malan are a work in progress and deserve perseverance. They have all had their moments in this series and if they keep improving in Perth then England have a chance. James Vince’s form is more worrying because at times he has made batting look easier than his colleagues but he simply cannot add the necessary concentration to his undoubted talent. He will likely play in Perth and it may well be his last chance should he fail.
England will be desperate for Alistair Cook and Moeen Ali to get into the series. Cook has looked horribly out of sorts and is especially struggling to pick Nathan Lyon. If ever there has been an England batsman who can play himself into form it is Cook but it needs to happen in Perth if England are going to surpass 400. Another failure in Perth could spell the end of a truly wonderful career come the end of the Ashes. Let’s hope not.
Moeen’s Ali bowling has always been based on confidence and at the moment he is light years away from his counterpart Nathan Lyon. If his injured finger is still negating his ability to put some revs on the ball then Root and Bayliss need to work out whether Mason Crane gets an opportunity with his leg spin. Moeen has plenty of credit in the bank and it is likely he will take his place in Perth.
Can England be victorious at the WACA?
It is a question we have asked twice already, but just how do England win in Perth? They have not won there in 39 years and the Australian fast bowlers will be licking their lips in anticipation of a more bouncy and quicker wicket.
England can take great heart from their stirring fight-back in Adelaide. Anderson and Woakes bowled beautifully, albeit in helpful conditions, but they played Australia at their own game by being aggressive and disciplined. We will leave aside the incomprehension of their efforts on the first two days for the time being. We English fans all dared to believe when we went to bed on the fourth evening, and their efforts over days three and four would have given the England team the belief that they do have the tools to beat Australia.
A major concern is the batting, though. It is difficult to see where a century is going to come from and it needs to be a big one if England are going to put themselves in a position of strength.
So, we build on the hope that the experienced players Alistair Cook and Joe Root can make a century. There will be no more chances after Perth and these guys have to step up. It would be great to see Jonny Bairstow convert his starts into the kind of innings we know he can produce. The same could be said for Moeen Ali. England have a team of quality players and if ever there was a time for the batting unit to work collectively it would be at the WACA.
What will be fascinating is the potential inclusion of Mark Wood into the England bowling line-up. At his best, he tops 90 mph and has that skiddy pace which Simon Jones produced so effectively in the 2005 Ashes series. That said, he is injury prone and has had little match practice in 2017, so it would be a big risk to include him.
England have to lay it on the line if they are to stand any chance of turning this series around in Perth. That means taking risks, such as the inclusion of Mark Wood but also in their approach to Nathan Lyon. As good a bowler that Lyon is, England have shown extreme caution against him and it has allowed Australia’s bowling attack to dictate proceedings. Everyone has to step up, relish the challenge and raise their game.
In reality, Australia has the superior bowling attack and a more consistent batting line-up. Frankly, it would be a major surprise if Australia did not claim the Ashes in Perth and go 3-0 up in the series.