PARTAB RAMCHAND | 11 DECEMBER, 2017
Will England Manage to Stop the Aussies at Perth?
When the Aussies are on top it is very difficult to dislodge them (Photo: Steve Smith)
Twice in the last three Ashes contests ``Down Under’’ in 2006-07 and 2013-14 Australia have completed a clean sweep of the five-Test series.
That’s a pretty impressive statistic since 5-0 results do not happen every time in an Ashes series. In fact before 2006-07 it had happened only once way back in 1920-21.
Now Australia are on the path to making it three out of four times having won the first two Tests in the ongoing series and every cricket follower is asking whether England can prevent it.
I had predicted on the eve of the first Test that it would be a closely fought contest and this ran contrary to the majority who had written off England. Despite what has happened I still stick by my stand and am confident of an England fightback.
Despite the comfortable margins of victory – ten wickets and 120 runs - I still feel that there is not much between the sides. The difference is that while Australia are playing up to potential England are not, Once the visitors raise the level of their game they can match the Australians who are not by any standards a great team.
There are cracks for England to exploit and that is what Joe Root and his men will have to do if they want to stage a comeback. On the other hand it must be admitted that England too are not a great team but they are not as bad as their performance has been so far.
While there have been several fine performances in the two Tests there have been two defining knocks played by Australian batsmen that have determined the way the matches have gone. It is clear that but for the two hundreds by Steve Smith and Shuan Marsh both matches could well have gone either way. Both centuries came at crucial junctures when England were matching Australia and proved to be the major turning points.
Among the two there can be little doubt that Smith’s was the greater innings both in quality and in the context of the game – and dare one say the series. In reply to England’s first innings total of 302 Australia were 30 for two when Smith walked in. The manner in which he held the innings together and by batting of the highest standards was exemplary. Thanks to their captain Australia got an unexpected lead of 26 but more important the initiative was thereafter always with the home team.
Marsh’s century must also be seen against a rather similar situation. Australia were 161for four when he entered with Smith having just been dismissed. His selection for the series was not exactly welcomed and he was under pressure. And even though he had eased this situation a little bit with a half century at Brisbane he still had to come good at Adelaide. He did - and how! With his unbeaten 126 he guided Australia to 442 for eight declared and as at Brisbane the initiative was now with the home team and they never relinquished it.
There has been no such performance on the England side even though they have players of considerable skill and experience and that has been their problem. Joe Root and James Anderson have so far lived up to their reputation though one gets the feeling that the captaincy is affecting the former’s batting. The failure of Alastair Cook – just 62 runs from four innings – is something that England cannot afford. The left hander has to be among the runs if England are to seriously challenge Australia at least from here on.
While on the face of it there is not much to choose between the batting of the two sides – as I said the Australians are playing to their potential while England are not – it must be said that in bowling the home team is superior.
The quartet of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon always gives the impression that they can do much better than the England attack which still depends overmuch on James Anderson and Stuart Broad though Craig Overton has shown the first signs of being a handy support to the experienced duo. In the absence of Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes is finding it hard to fill the all rounder’s slot on his own. Yes, there is no denying the fact that England are missing their ace all rounder but they have just to put it behind them and carry on to their best of their ability.
So will we see an England fightback in the third Test at Perth which commences on Thursday? That’s what England will have to do if they want to keep the series alive and squash all talk of another whitewash. All they have to do is to raise the level of their game but will they be able to do that? Or more precisely will Australia allow them to wriggle back into the contest?
When the Aussies are on top it is very difficult to dislodge them. On the other hand it needs only one or two defining performances this time from the England side for the series to come alive.