Venue: Western Australian Cricket Association (Western Australia)
Date: 13-17 December 2013
Time: 03:00 (GMT)
It’s now or never for England in this Ashes series with Alistair Cook knowing a third consecutive loss will see Australia regain the urn at the earliest stage possible. After a second battering in a row in Adelaide on a slow drop-in wicket the technique of England’s batsmen against the short ball will be tested more than ever on a rapid WACA wicket, traditionally regarded as the fastest pitch in world cricket. Mitchell Johnson starred here in 2010 despite having an otherwise ordinary series, an ominous sign for England with the form the left-arm fast bowler currently finds himself in. Cook and Australian captain Michael Clarke both reach 100 test caps in this test, a fine achievement by any measure but one that Clarke will be able to savour more than his English counterpart. Wicket keeper Matt Prior produced some fighting talk at yesterdays press conference but it’ll be actions rather than words that will turn this series around for the visitors. One small positive that coach Andy Flower can draw upon is the good performances from Gary Ballance, Sam Robson, Chris Jordan and Tymal Mills for the England Performance Program during their recent three-day game against a Western Australia second XI. Whether or not any of those get a chance to star for the test side during the tour remains to be seen.
Australia are once again likely to name an unchanged side. Ryan Harris has struggled slightly with some knee inflammation but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for the fast bowler and it would be a shock if he was unable to play with the Ashes so close to being regained. James Faulkner suffered a broken thumb in the nets yesterday which means that he may not be fit for the rest of the series, so Doug Bollinger and Nathan Coulter-Nile are next in line for a fast bowling spot should Harris go down.
Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon
England face a similar dilemma to the one they encountered in Adelaide, where they had a number of selection options with none of them entirely satisfactory. Many pundits claim that consistency of selection is a key part of creating a winning environment, yet recent history would appear to tell us that a settled side is often a product of a success and not the other way round. England’s top five should remain intact although Ben Stokes could be dropped after just one test, making way for the uncapped Yorkshireman Gary Ballance. Another alternative is for the visitors to bat wicket keeper Matt Prior at six with Tim Bresnan filling the all-rounders role at seven. Although it’s unclear where he’ll bat Bresnan is a certainty to play his first test of the series, with Monty Panesar equally likely to miss out after playing in Adelaide. England’s other spinner Graeme Swann may also be left out if Cook and Andy Flower opt to field an all pace attack but that would mean including the out-of-favour Steven Finn or the uncapped Boyd Rankin. Essex’s Tymal Mills has been touted as a potential shock inclusion due to his raw pace but it would be incredibly out of character for Cook and Flower to make such a bold move.
Likely team: Cook (c), Carberry, Root, Pieterson, Bell, Stokes, Prior (wk), Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson
Pitch and weather
After a fairly docile drop in surface was prepared for Adelaide the WACA in Perth should provide plenty of pace and bounce for the fast bowlers. Reports have suggested that there’s also a fairly significant covering of grass on the wicket which should encourage the bowlers even further.
Forecasts indicate that all five days of the test will be sweltering, with temperatures reaching up to 39 Celsius. There will almost certainly be no rain which makes a result likely.
Marias Erasmus and Billy Bowden
After predicting draws in both of the first two tests I won’t make the same mistake thrice. Australia’s dominance has been overwhelming and when the Aussies get on top they don’t let up, either on the field or off it. With Perth also being one of Mitchell Johnson’s favourite hunting grounds the signs aren’t promising for Cook’s England, who despite delivering some fighting talk in the pre-match build-up have yet to do anything with the bat to convince me that they can stand up to Johnson and Ryan Harris on such a lethal surface. I don’t think England will crumble in quite as spectacular fashion as they have in the previous two games, but I also don’t think they have enough in the tank to prevent an Australian win and hold on to the famous urn.