Ashes 2013-14: Five talking points as England toil on day four

Ashes 2013-14: Five talking points as England finish day three on 251-5 in Perth

By Stuart Clarke

Watson puts the match out of reach

Had England ripped through Australia’s top and middle order in the morning session, there may have been a small amount of hope that the tourists could chase down the win. Unfortunately, Shane Watson took advantage of the depleted and demoralised England bowling attack as he blitzed 103 off 108 balls. A Watson hundred is a rare sight in the Test arena, this being only his third in 48 matches. But given the freedom to attack, the Queenslander did not turn down the opportunity to destroy an already fragile Graeme Swann, launching him into the stands on a number of occasions. Watson’s ton was the seventh for Australia in the series compared to none by England. Without the injured Stuart Broad in the bowling lineup, England were always going to struggle to make up the numbers and rotate the bowlers to keep them fresh. On the plus side, they finally restricted Brad Haddin to a score of less than 50 for the first time in the series. It’s just a shame they couldn’t do that with many of the other batsmen.

Who would want to be Alastair Cook?

For many of us, when growing up, captaining the England cricket team was the dream that we were never going to realistically achieve. Now, however, you would struggle to find anyone who would want to be in Alastair Cook’s shoes at the moment. Playing in his 100th Test, the 28-year-old will doubtless have felt worse on a cricket pitch than he did when he heard the death rattle of his bails falling to the ground after Ryan Harris’ pearler dismissed him first ball. It was his first golden duck in 177 Test innings and compounds his already below-par series with the willow. He has averaged 25 in his six innings to date and has only outlasted his opening partner Michael Carberry twice in that time. This means that he’s always been back in the dressing room to witness the regular batting collapses and brain-freezes by the recognised batsmen he is in charge of. There are only so many times you can pat Kevin Pietersen on the back and say “unlucky mate” after he’s thrown away his wicket. On the bright side for Cook, it’s his birthday on Christmas Day, which could give him the pick-up he needs to run out in front of 100,000 people the following day and try to rebuild his reputation.

Signs of fight

Once again, it has taken until the second innings of the match for the England batsmen to show some courage and patience to take the attack to Australia. Other than Cook, every other member of the top-six stuck around for at least 80 minutes to genuinely frustrate the Aussie bowlers. Carberry looked very comfortable against Mitchell Johnson and co, playing some delightful cover drives and controlled pull-shots. Joe Root dug in for two hours, only to be criticised for scoring too slowly. Pietersen looked dangerous as he sped to 45, before a traditional bout of over-confidence saw him hole out to Ryan Harris at long-on off Nathan Lyon. Then Ian Bell and Ben Stokes had arguably England’s best partnership of the series. Putting on 99 the pair looked completely untroubled against the old ball on a reasonably friendly fourth-day pitch. Bell passed his 50 and then took to the air to launch Peter Siddle for four over mid-off. He then unwisely followed a steepling bouncer from Siddle two balls later and feathered an edge to Brad Haddin. Bell thrives batting at number five, scoring his 16th 50 in his last 21 innings, but ideally England would want to move him to number three to give the innings a bit of impetus, rather than have the Cook/Carberry/Root trio limp the scoreboard along. This could be something that the England management try in Melbourne, but then again they may not want to disrupt the form of their most stable batsman.

Stokes stands strong

In a time of what many in the media are dubbing as a ‘crisis’, Ben Stokes showed that he deserved his place in the side with an excellently well-crafted 72*. Sharing that partnership with Bell will have given the Durham youngster the self-confidence that he belongs at the level and has the best shot to get England’s first century of the series. His innings was perfectly paced, despatching the poor balls while defending and leaving the good ones. The Australian bowlers looks rattled for the first time in the series as Stokes plundered 12 fours. Again he stood up to Johnson, this time with his bat rather than his shoulder, and played some wonderful straight drives and clips off his legs. It’s looking unlikely that England will knock off the 249 more runs they need to pull off the unlikely victory, but if Stokes can continue to frustrate the Aussies and score his maiden Test century then England will go to the MCG on Boxing Day with a glimmer of hope.

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