With The Series Won, Attention Turns To The Whitewash: Fourth Test Preview
One could be forgiven for thinking that now that Australia have deservedly clinched the Ashes, the pressure on England is – to a certain extent – off. After all, in clinching the little urn for the first time since 2007, Darren Lehmann’s side have accomplished their goal.
However, Australia have a new goal now. Having won the series, the team led by Michael Clarke will be intent on humiliating this England side by winning the series 5-0. And mark my words; they’ve got a very good chance of doing exactly that.
The fourth test in Melbourne begins on Boxing Day, and with the tourists in disarray after the shock retirement of Graeme Swann, Alastair Cook’s side face an uphill struggle if they are to salvage one iota of pride from this catastrophic series.
As attention turns towards Melbourne, we review the hot topics surrounding the fourth test:
Goodbye Graeme Swann
If one looks at the facts, it really is no surprise that Swann has made the decision to retire. The England spinner has only taken seven wickets during this series, and has realistically only served as cannon fodder for the Australian batsmen.
In his pomp, Swann was able to perform two roles for England; that of the economical turner who could be relied upon for maidens, and the explosive off-spinner who could demolish the opponent’s batting order. Sadly for both Swann and England, both of these qualities have been beyond him in this series, and it has to be said that had he not retired, his selection for Melbourne would be anything but a foregone conclusion.
The trouble for England is that there is now a big Swann-shaped hole in their side. Essex left-armer Monty Panesar is the most likely man to step into Swann’s shoes for Melbourne, and Andy Flower has called up Scott Borthwick and James Tredwell as cover. The two squad newcomers only have one test cap between them, and neither is likely to feature in Melbourne; but could be fielded in Sydney.
Unfortunately for England, quality spinners are hard to find, and it would be dishonest not to admit that with Swann gone, they simply don’t possess another spinner capable of the same impact.
What England Must Do
Quite simply, bat better. A lot better. Quite frankly, England’s batting performances – which have only seen them manage 200+ in 50% of their innings – have been unacceptable. It seems unlikely that Flower will make wholesale changes to the side that lost in Perth; but question marks may well be raised over Kevin Pietersen’s use to this team. The South African-born batsman has been poor throughout this series; displaying a remarkable amount of immaturity for one of the side’s senior statesmen and there is a possibility that Pietersen could be replaced by Yorkshireman Gary Ballance.
If England can bat a lot better, they will give themselves half a chance of winning a test and at least salvaging a small amount of pride from this dreadful series. However, the ‘half’ a chance needs to be highlighted, as unless England are able to rediscover their bowling x-factor; it doesn’t really matter how well they bat. With Swann gone, one of the supposed wicket-takers has been taken out of the side, and Panesar will be asked to fill that void.
In terms of seam bowling, England desperately need some good news in regard to Stuart Broad’s recovery; as he is the only English bowler (Ben Stokes aside) who seems to possess what is required to trouble these Australian batsmen on home soil. Question marks have been raised over the benefit of having James Anderson in this side, but the swing bowler is likely to be retained with the Melbourne pitch thought to favour seam bowling more than any other pitch in this series.
Perhaps the biggest quandary will be the decision of whether to play Tim Bresnan or one of the other quicks who have been rather marginalised so far. England haven’t trusted Boyd Rankin or Steve Finn at all, with Chris Tremlett only having one outing; but what is clear is that England’s aggressive bowling must improve if they are to have any chance of winning a match in this series. Mitchell Johnson has led the way; ably assisted by Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, and England must take inspiration from their opposition if they are to pose any threat to the Australian batsmen.
Can They Win?
I’m sure many of you will disagree, but on paper, this England side is not a lot worse than the Australian team. They have shown in the recent past that they have the ability to go toe-to-toe with the very best cricket teams in the world, and consequently they can’t be dismissed; on paper. However, sadly for Alastair Cook, cricket is not played on paper, and out in the middle, Cook’s side have been ruthlessly exposed.
I’d love to say that England could sort their batting out and consequently cause Australia some problems in the fourth test, but all of the evidence proves otherwise. So, the answer to the original question is – yes, they can win, but only if they start playing completely differently to everything we’ve seen so far this series. The chances of that happening? Slim.