Australia 385 and 369-6 dec., England 251 and 353
Australia lead the series 3-0 and regain the Ashes
It almost seems like I’ve watched the same game three times. Michael Clark wins the toss and decides to bat. England take early wickets, but then a middle-order entrenchment sees Australia make a higher first innings score than looked likely, but one that is not entirely out of reach. England bat fairly well for the first couple of wickets before a batting collapse is initiated and we subside to give the Australians a substantial first inning lead. The Australian batsmen have fun tormenting our bowlers for a while, with less and less likely batsmen making scores while the England fielding looks more and more hapless, before declaring and setting England a target well beyond any that has ever been chased down. The game now lost, England rally a little and bat with more maturity and confidence than they did when there was still something to play for, leaving us with the impression that things might be looking up, but inevitably the last wicket falls with the target still miles out of sight. We spend several sleepless nights speculating about what team we could select for the next Test to change the outcome.
I don’t think that changing the personnel will help. As I said yesterday, the players in this team are the best players England have available. But I do have a few suggestions for how they can at least avoid repeating the same narrative a fourth time.
1) Alastair Cook could win the toss
I still stand by the statistics that show that the toss is unimportant as a predictor of the outcome of games. However, if England can bat first then the narrative of the game is already different before a ball is bowled. In fact, I think the first toss was, in hindsight, the most important: Mitchell Johnson bowls best when he has batted well. If he had come into the attack, only just returned to the national Test squad, without any runs under his belt, then he might not have blown England away at the Gabba and set the tone for the rest of the series.
2) England could bat in their first innings like they do in their second
Maybe Andy Flower can hire a hypnotherapist to convince the batsmen they have already played an innings? If England had made their battling 353 in the first inning in reply to Australia’s 385, this Test would have looked very different.
3) They could stop the Australian middle order getting so many runs
I discussed a few days ago how the biggest difference between the two sides is the runs of their middle orders. Ben Stokes’s big innings has reduced this variation, but not eradicated it completely. England, once they have got the first three or four wickets, seem to take their foot of the pedal and so allow Australia to regroup; Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Lyon never allow that. If the England bowling attack could be as deadly once they scent middle-order blood, they could keep Australia to much more manageable totals.
4) The team could be more whole-hearted in the field
Let’s face it: there have been some horrendous dropped catches and missed chances this series, especially for a team which normally prides itself on its fielding. On the middle days at the WACA, especially, most of the team looked beaten in the field, with their heads down and shoulders hunched. The notable exceptions were Bresnan, Stokes and Root – players who have not been in the side for very long, so maybe it was the mental fatigue getting to them. Or maybe it’s just that southerners really are soft.
Anyway, I celebrated the Australian victory (once I had run out of excuses for staying in the ground, which was about two hours after play ended) by dissecting the defeat with some of the other hostel residents – there’s developed a core group of us who keep bumping into each other in backpackers’ all over Australia – then painting my nails and watching a crime drama in the TV room. That’s the glamorous life I lead. Tomorrow, it’s on to Melbourne.