I’m not going to lie; it’s been pretty difficult to be an English cricket fan over the last few weeks. An Ashes tour that began with high hopes of a fourth consecutive series win for the first time since 1890 has quickly descended into a one-sided and frankly embarrassing contest.
After losing the first test at The Gabba, many were highly critical of the way that England capitulated under the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson. Despite that criticism, it was felt by most that the next test in Adelaide would be a far closer contest. After all, the Adelaide pitch was a drop in; it was flat as a pancake and was tipped to have very little bounce. How wrong those people were. England were taken to the cleaners once again, and now stare down the barrel of their first Ashes defeat for six years.
Australia have done their homework
Credit must go to Australia – and in particular captain Michael Clarke – for the superb way in which they have implemented their tactics in these two test matches.
An alarming statistic from an English perspective is the fact that of their 40 dismissals so far in this series, 21 of those have come from catches down the legside. These are not a few isolated mishits to square leg and midwicket, but rather a clear indication that Australia have made a plan to combat the English batting threat; a plan that thus far England have failed to counteract.
Australia should be applauded for having the foresight to make a plan for the English batsmen, but at the same time, it seems a pretty poor show that England have not been able to come up with any way to combat this. To me, this smacks of complacency, and quite frankly, we are currently seeing the fruit of this complacency.
Mitchell Johnson – man of the series so far
It’s important to remember that although England are clearly deserving of criticism for their poor batting performances, they have been driven to this malaise by a truly fantastic display of pace bowling from Mitchell Johnson.
The moustachioed fast bowler has taken 17 wickets in the two tests so far, accounting for almost half of all the wickets England have lost. One of the biggest compliments that can be paid to Johnson is the fact that in the run up to the second test England put a much greater emphasis on dealing with short deliveries only for Johnson to finish up with seven wickets in the first innings. Right now, practise or no practise, England cannot cope with Johnson and if they don’t work out a way to deal with him, they will most certainly lose this series.
More bad news for England: Perth favours pace
Given that the series is now already on the line and Mitchell Johnson is currently unplayable, the very last venue England would fancy playing at right now is the WACA. Not only is the pitch in Perth one of the quickest and bounciest pitches in world cricket, but England also have a horrendous record at the ground; losing their last six tests there and winning only one in their last 12.
To have any chance of coming back into this series, Alastair Cook must get his house in order. These are not bad batsmen. Cook himself – even at the tender age of 28 – is one of the most prolific batsmen of all time, and his supporting cast of Bell and Pietersen are hardly novices; though they are currently playing with a level of naivety that would suggest that precise thing. Cook and Andy Flower must instill in their players how crucial it is to play with a straight bat and not take any unnecessary risks.
Sadly for England, it isn’t just their batting that needs work, with their bowling attack failing to make the same inroads into the Australian order that their Aussie counterparts have managed. Apart from Stuart Broad’s first spell in Brisbane, the English attack has failed to impose itself on the game and the result has been the talented Australian batsmen dominating the scoresheet. If England can work out how to get Broad and Anderson firing, they can at least offer the same sort of threat they are facing from Mitchell Johnson.
England to make changes
Unsurprisingly, given that the series is already at stake, England are likely to make some changes ahead of Friday’s showdown. The decision to utilise two spinners in Adelaide backfired, with Panesar and Swann only managing three wickets between them whilst shipping over 350 runs; and it’s likely that at least one of the slow bowlers will be dropped for the Perth test.
However, aside from personnel, the biggest change that England will need to make is their approach to short-pitched fast bowling. Cook’s side has thrown far too many wickets away with immature leg-side shots, and if they are not able to rectify this before Friday, this series will be done.
A draw would be a good result
Given England’s history at this ground, it would be optimistic of me to say that England will win this test, even if they are able to rectify the issues in their side.
A draw for Cook’s side would give them some confidence ahead of the last two tests, and potentially create a few doubts in the Australian’s minds. If England could then build on an encouraging performance at Perth with solid batting performances in Melbourne and Sydney, they’d have a slim chance of drawing the series and retaining the Ashes.
England need so many things to go right if they are to have a chance of even drawing this series. The realist in me believes that at this late stage, there is too much to rectify. However, the fact remains that a good performance by England, a poor performance by the Aussies and a rain-affected test could result in a drawn series. It might be a slim hope to cling onto, but quite frankly, that’s all we’ve got right now. Enjoy the game everyone!