England's Widening Cracks: Perth Talking Points
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 18: Australia celebrate after defeating England to retake the Ashes during day five of the Third Test match during the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at WACA on December 18, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Will Russell - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

When the English team touched down in Australia, the Australian Vice Captain sent out a clear warning to the English camp that they should be prepared for “war”. England Captain Joe Root was in bullish mood during his first Ashes Press Conference, saying, “We’re very confident. We’ve got very good experienced players that have been here and won before – and some very young, exciting players that are desperate to prove to everyone how good they are. We’re a completely different side to the last time we came here.” Fast forward to 15 days of Test Cricket, England are 0-3 down and are facing a prospect of a 5-0 whitewash for the third time in their past four trips to Australia. “The War” has certainly been lost and by a sorry margin. Perth has again decimated England’s hopes.

England’s Widening Cracks: Perth Talking Points

After failing to capitalise on opportunities in Brisbane and Adelaide, Perth was a Do-Or-Die proposition for England. The frailties advertised before the series have taken centre stage. After a brilliant opening day at the WACA where they amassed 305/4 and were 368/4 on the second morning, things only turned worse for the Poms. They collapsed to 403 all out before Australian captain Steven Smith was to produce yet another Test Match masterclass when he got his highest Test score- 239 along with Mitchell Marsh who got his maiden Test hundred, en route to a 236-ball 181. The cracks opened at the WACA, much like England’s fortunes, when they slipped to 218 in the second innings, losing by an innings and 41 runs. We discuss the talking points:
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1. England Flatter to Deceive, Again

This is not the first time in the recent past that England have surrendered a Test from a strong position. It happened in Brisbane, it happened in Adelaide and it happened now in Perth. England collapsing from 368/4 to 403 on a brilliant batting strip was just the start of their problems. Reducing Australia to 55/2, and then allowing them to post 662/9(dec), was pretty shocking. Rewind to the 2016 series against India, where England lost two consecutive Tests by an innings after posting a 400+ score in the first innings of both Tests.  India went on to post totals in excess of 600 and 700 respectively. While the English fans and media were celebrating and jumping at 368/4, they were deceive again by the end of the Test match. England had surrendered, Again.

2. Dawid Malan Presents A Good Case For Long-Term Selection

One of the very few positives from another horror performance was middle-order batsman Dawid Malan. With critics trying to unravel him for his slow approach and inexperience, Malan tackled everything thrown at him with distinction. He got to his maiden Test hundred in the first innings with a brilliant pull shot off Josh Hazlewood, studded with 19 fours and a six in 227 balls, certainly not as slow as people make him out to be. In the second innings too, where the treacherous WACA cracks took centre stage, he compiled a gritty 135-ball 54 lasting well over three hours in a bid to save the game.
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No surprises then with the fact that Malan is England’s best batsman on this trip with 302 runs in the three Tests at an average of 50.33, only behind Steven Smith. He has certainly shown and proven his credentials to be a long-term England Number Five.

3. All Hail Steven Smith, The First of His Name

With all the eyes on Steven Smith after his decision to not enforce the follow-on and losing the two reviews in next to no time in Adelaide, the Australian captain more than made people forget that ever happened. Coming in at a delicate position at 55/2, trailing by 348, Smith produced an innings of a lifetime. 239 off 399 balls, 578 minutes on the crease, 30 fours and a six, Ashes Cricket saw one of its best ever knocks. England were made to lick their wounds as Smith racked up one record after another, virtually sealing the Ashes by the third Test himself. It took a freakish delivery hitting a crack to get him out, possibly his first mistake in the entire innings.

Smith scored his second century of the series and his 22nd of his career. In getting there in 108 innings, Smith became the third quickest to this feat behind Sir Donald Bradman, 58 innings and Sunil Gavaskar, 101 innings. Smith has scored five centuries in 2017 – joint-most alongside Dean Elgar and Virat Kohli.

4. Alastair Cook And Stuart Broad Look To Be At Their Finish Lines

A lot of the buildup prior to the Ashes was how England were hopeful that their experienced stalwarts would carry the side Down Under. Two of them have had a very embarrassing Ashes so far.
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In six innings so far, Alastair Cook has a shocking 83 runs at an average of 13.83, with a highest score of 37. To provide this a little perspective, Pat Cummins has crossed 40 thrice in the series. This has had a negative effect on his partner Mark Stoneman too, who has had succumbed to the pressure of covering up for Cook. Cook now has gone ten innings without a fifty since his 243 against West Indies in Edgbaston, his worst run yet in his 150-Test career. In four of the last five years, Cook has averaged less than 45. Big alarm bells must be ringing in the England camp as their most prolific Test batsman is woefully out of form.

Stuart Broad on the other hand registered his worst Test figures yet, 35-4-142-0. For all the talk that 35-year-old James Anderson could be pulling up stumps at the end of the series, it is Broad, 32, who has looked the vastly inferior bowler this series. With series figures of 113-32-309-5, Broad has looked a mere shadow of his true self. This year has been a bad one altogether. 25 wickets an average of 39.48 is way off then his 186 wickets at an average of 26.94 in the previous four years. He is perhaps bowling the slowest in his career yet and England who needed him at his best have so far perhaps seen his worst.

5. England Need A New Bowling Attack

Bowling forms such a crucial element in any Ashes series and on present viewing it would not be wrong in saying that England look like they need a new bowling attack altogether. Barring James Anderson, none of the English bowlers have created any pressure on the Australian batsman, except Chris Woakes in the Adelaide second innings under the lights. His figures so far are 119-21-361-7, Craig Overton has 59-4-226-6 and Moeen Ali has 96-15-316-3 in the series. In five innings, they have taken ten Australian wickets only twice and have conceded match defining leads of 26, 215 and 259 respectively in the three tests despite having Australia at 209/7, 209/5 and 55/2 in crucial junctures.
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Australia’s attack has taken all the 60 wickets available for them and have racked up impressive numbers. Mitchell Starc has 125.3-22-400-19, Josh Hazlewood has 120.4-34-348-15, Pat Cummins has 126.3-33-331-11 and Nathan Lyon has 146.1-35-365-14 in the series so far. The huge gulf in the bowling attacks is clearly evident and there is no shred of doubt as to why England has lost the three Tests convincingly.

6. Mitchell Marsh Finally Proves His Worth In Perth

It has taken Mitchell Marsh 22 Tests and a nine-month absence to notch his maiden Test hundred in Perth. Replacing Peter Handscomb, a move really criticised at the start of the Test, Marsh produced one of the best innings from an all-rounder in a long time. Coming in at 248/4, he stitched a 301-run partnership with Smith for the fifth wicket, dominating it with scoring 181 of those 301 runs. The pressure on him to deliver was immense especially after coming in the side in the middle of the series. While the base idea was to get in an extra seam-bowling option, he made sure Australia did not need his bowling services much. This is a launchpad for his Australian career.

While Australia have regained the Ashes pretty comfortably, England’s worst fears have come to life. The most talked about vulnerabilities are now laid open for the world to see and there is nothing England can do about it unless they start making half chances count. It is another shambolic performance in Australia with its fair share of controversy and if they want to save face in Melbourne and Sydney, something has to be done soon. A whitewash looks a very real possibility now. Perth again has led England into Ashes abyss.

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