Well, we have been here before. Several times in fact. And unfortunately parallels from the horror 13/14 tour under Cook and Flower, and of course the Flintoff-led debacle in 2006/7, will inevitably be drawn. The reality here is that history tells us that England going into Perth 2-0 down, typically equals a 5-0 whitewash on an Ashes tour.
Now if we rewind to an article that I wrote, almost exactly four years ago (link below), I went in still all guns blazing in championing a fairy tale comeback and 3-2 England triumph, after a defiant 2nd innings effort with the bat at Adelaide (ring any bells…?). Looking back now, it was based almost entirely on emotion, desperation and maybe one half-decent innings. Despite the two losses on this tour, we have been far more competitive than four years ago, which is the main foundation on which our hopes still remain.
Whilst Lenny Kravitz still lives on, we must believe that it really ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but on the same token, it also potentially ain’t that far away. People who know me, would describe me as ‘ever the optimist’, about England’s chances and sometimes unrealistically buoyant. But I’m now four years older, uglier and wiser, than the gung-ho writer of December 2013, which in turn has opened up my appreciation that at some stage the head should be listened to, and the heart pushed aside. This unfortunately, is that moment. Getting back into this series with a win at Perth, seems a seriously long way away.
But does that mean we will all lose belief that a comeback could happen? Of course it doesn't! Will we continue to support the boys and keep signing loud and proud all the way to the SCG? Too right we will!
So we now come to the question of how can England win at Perth and what changes, if any, should they make?
If England are going to have any chance of winning at Perth, and getting back into the series, they must play to their strengths. We don’t have a Pat Cummins or a Tymal Mills available that we can throw the ball to bowl at 90mph on a consistent basis. With the ball, we have to trust our high quality bowlers to bowl at their best. And let’s face it; they have just rolled the Aussies for 138 last time around. We don’t have huge pace or mystery spin, so let’s not look for something that isn’t available. That’s an argument for another day.
The batting, is where the issues lie. We must look to history. Our only real success in Australia, at least in my living memory, was based around huge first innings runs. Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Prior all scored hundreds. To succeed in Australia you simply must be getting 400 on the board in the first innings as an absolute minimum. There are no two ways about it. Had we got 400 on the board in the first innings at Brisbane and at Adelaide, as we maybe should have done. We would not be two games down right now, I can assure you of that.
So we’ve ultimately got what we have got. Are Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine better cricketers than Bairstow and Malan? I’d say not. They have just played better cricket in the conditions so far. If I was in the shoes of Trevor Bayliss, I would not be looking at too many changes in personel, but the batting order in particular must be tinkered with. How can we score 400 at Perth?
How can England improve for Perth:
Top order runs must come and must come now!
You don’t win Test matches with a top score of 82 or 67. England need to find hundreds from somewhere and it must start at Perth. Based on scores of 227, 233, 302 and 195, there simply must be a change. We cannot continue to bat in a similar manner and expect differing results!
This should start with Jonny Bairstow. He is currently England’s second best batsman in these conditions, due to the inability of Alastair Cook to lay a bat on Lyon. Jonny has the ability and skill to score hundreds in Australia, but at number 7, he cannot. With England’s 8-11, consistently being ‘bombed’ away within half an hour, Bairstow has been and will continue to be left stranded if he doesn’t move up the order.
It’s a very simple equation in my eyes, the batters most likely to score big hundreds must bat in the top order. Vince and Malan have shown positive signs, but nowhere near enough. Ballance wouldn’t improve the side, and bringing in another left-hander for Lyon to spin into his web, is the opposite of clear thinking.
We need our best batsman to be able to affect the game higher up, it’s our only chance of winning the Test match. For that reason I would move James Vince down the order and Root and Bairstow up it.
What to do about Mo?
The struggle of Moeen Ali is a huge problem. Without Stokes, Mo is the balancing act England so desperately need, and without his consistency with the ball and with bat that we are so used to, England are always one step behind.
This is another simple selection quandary for me. If Mo is fully fit to bowl, then does so and bats 7. But if he still cannot bowl properly due to his finger injury, it just has to be a debut for Mason Crane. The pitches so far have turned, which is no surprise considering how good Nathan Lyon has been in 2017, and England would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t go into the Test without a frontline spinner, no matter how inexperienced Crane may be. Fingers crossed Ali is back to his spinning best by Perth.
Can Wood improve our attack?
A 100% fit Mark Wood is an asset to any side. If Wood comes through the two-day game fully fit, and I mean FULLY fit, then he might just be worth a gamble. But if he isn’t bowling full-speed and pushing 90 mph, forget it. Remember, the bowling is not the main issue, so changes for the sake of changes is not what we require. I’m more than happy with the seamers we had playing at Adelaide. I hope for Mark’s sake he can come in and make a major impact be it at Perth, or more likely at the MCG.
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To summarise, the key is to stay calm, stay positive, stay consistent and avoid flipping the whole thing on its head. These guys playing are much better than they have shown. Yes, we know we need big hundreds, but don’t forget Cook has 31 of the bad boys, Root 13, Ali 5 and Bairstow 3.
Yes, if we do not up our game quickly, we might well be starring down the barrel of a Glenn McGrath special, but we have got some world-class players in that setup and the series can be turned on its head, if England start playing to their best. I’m looking forward to Perth and joining up with the magnificent Barmy Army. And with a little re-jiggle, I’ll actually be more confident about winning the test than this article may suggest.
Cook, Stoneman, Root, Bairstow, Malan, Vince, Ali, Woakes, Crane, Broad, Anderson.
I’m hoping to see this side at the WACA, but whatever the XI entrusted, be sure to hear us loud and proud. Maybe we can see something very special. Cricket is a very funny game...
*Crane only is Ali not 100% to bowl. Overton or Wood to replace if he is.