Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points ahead of Perth Test
Ashes 2013-14: Here are four talking points ahead of the third Test in Perth, which starts on Friday
Mitchell Johnson has enjoyed a renaissance in the current Ashes series. After the Barmy Army taunts this summer, he has fired back with some rapid spells of hostile short-pitched bowling. With 17 wickets and just as many body blows in two Tests, the England batsman will have their work cut out. At his home ground in Perth, the moustache-clad quick has taken 36 wickets at 19 on the famous bouncy deck and if the tourists struggled before with the short ball, they can expect more chin music as the cherry whistles past their ears at 90mph plus. If he continues in this vein of form, then the Ashes urn will be in the Australian’s hands early Tuesday morning – or perhaps before if the previous two Tests are anything to go by.
England’s blunt attack
While Johnson has been the pick of an impressive Australian bowling outfit, England’s attack has looked blunt in comparison. The all-conquering James Anderson has ran in and bowled low to mid-80’s, and without the help that he receives in English conditions with swing and lateral movement, the Lancashire man has looked fairly benign, taking just five wickets. Then the usually dependable Graeme Swann has been absolutely milked in the first two Tests, whilst Stuart Broad hasn’t looked as threatening as any of the Aussie attack – except on the opening day of the Ashes. Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn will be hoping they can add something to the attack on a hard Perth deck if selected, offering something different with real pace and bounce, fighting fire with fire.
The spine of the England team has not changed for years after the successes of the previous three Ashes series, in which all of the current players performed at one stage or another. At present the likes of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior as well as Broad and Anderson are not contributing, which is why England have fallen to two heavy defeats. Obviously as captain, Cook will play, and no doubt the other four will be given the chance to show their class. But they will need to do it quickly as a couple more off-days and the urn will be in the hands of the Australians for the first time in four years. The pressure falls on the shoulders of the new members of the side, still learning the rigours and nuances of Test cricket. The likes of Joe Root, Michael Carberry and Ben Stokes would benefit massively from an experienced player leading by example, digging in and making runs or taking wickets, but so far they have had to go it alone.
Everyone has agreed from Andy Flower to Cook and from David Gower to Geoff Boycott that the shot selection from the England top-order has been woeful. They have faced hostile bowling before but it seems that compulsive hooking and fending away from the body is the order of the day down-under. With England giving so many cheap wickets away, it is no surprise the Aussie pace men and fielders are so chipper. The aggressive Australian side will pounce on any weakness and the sense of blood will only spur them on and get their tails up. So in Perth, there has to be a plan, especially to the short ball. The English batsman can either put away the hook shot, or attack the short ball. But they must have a clear vision in their heads. In defence, they must be brave, get in behind the ball and be prepared to wear a couple. Either that or simply duck. It is a pride in their wicket that seems to be missing and lapses in concentration that have cost England the opening two tests, and if it doesn’t change soon the series.