Bairstow, Buttler and England’s Wicket Keeping Crossroads

Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have failed to grab England's wicket keeping position with both hands

Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have failed to grab England’s wicket keeping position with both hands

Between 2009 and 2013, England enjoyed the luxury that was Matt Prior, picking the Sussex wicket keeper for almost every single test match played during those years. Prior ascended to the role of vice-captain before an achilles injury cut his career short in mid-2014, and his game changing, counter-attacking style of batting at number seven in the order enabled England to play without a genuine all-rounder during their golden era under Andy Flower. Prior averaged over 40 with the bat during his test career and his wicket keeping also improved immeasurably after he was recalled to the team in early 2009, making him one of the best if not the world’s best keeper-batsman for a time.

However times have changed, and since Prior was originally dropped during the ill-fated Ashes tour of Australia in late 2013 Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler have both donned the gloves, neither with enough success to end debate about the position in both the short and long term. Both have appealing attributes with the bat; Buttler has played a number of influential innings in the shorter formats of the game, albeit not recently, while Bairstow comfortably passed 1,000 first class runs last summer despite featuring in only half of Yorkshire’s Championship fixtures. Yet both have serious flaws with the gloves, and this has served to exaggerate criticism over their place in the team when either has suffered a barren run with bat in hand.

Both Bairstow and Buttler remain fine fielders, which makes it even more frustrating when they make the occasional mistake with the gloves on, but ultimately it is their performances with the bat that have led to England’s current wicket keeping dilemma. In 34 test innings Bairstow averages 26.40, while Buttler averages 30 after 24 knocks. As a point of comparison, over a decade ago the silk gloved James Foster mustered an average of 25.10 in his 12 test innings, while providing far better work with the gloves than the current Bairstow and Buttler combination.

This begs the question; would England be best served by returning to a specialist keeper? Perhaps the answer is yes, but the options in the county game are few and far between. Foster himself still captains Essex, but he will turn 36 before next summer begins and has played his first class cricket in division two during recent seasons. Chris Read, another excellent gloveman who never quite made the test grade with the bat, is 37 and his ship has also sailed. Younger ‘keepers of prominence include Ben Foakes of Surrey and Sam Billings of Kent, and they would appear to be the next two cabs off of the proverbial rank. Foakes has appeared on multiple England Lions tours and averages 36 in first class cricket, while Billings has been capped at ODI level by England. Billings possesses a first class average of just 31, however, and Foakes only kept wicket on a semi regular basis for Surrey in 2014 thanks to the presence of captain Gary Wilson.

Ultimately, it figures that both Bairstow and Buttler will be given at least one more opportunity each before anyone else is given a go by Trevor Bayliss, but both will be aware that with James Taylor’s emergence alongside Joe Root in the middle order that the only way either of them will find a way into the side is by assuming the gloves. England will need at least one to finally come of age in the test arena if they’re to adequately replace Prior, and in the process plug the huge gap that has emerged in the lower middle order.

England v India ODI Series: 5 Things to Watch

Alex Hales looks set to make his ODI debut against India

Alex Hales looks set to make his ODI debut against India

Following England’s stirring comeback in the test series against India, the three lions will be looking to press on against the same opposition in the 50-over format with the ODI World Cup in Australia just around the corner. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the five game series gets underway:

Is Alex Hales the man for England in all three formats?

Previously viewed as just a twenty20 specialist, Alex Hales looks set to earn his first ODI cap against India and there have even been whispers a profitable series could catapult him into the frame for a test spot. Hales imperious form of late has seen him notch centuries in both four day and one day cricket, and the man himself has admitted he’s in the best form of his young career. England have often been criticised for being dull and unimaginative with their team selections; should Hales force his way into the test team as a David Warner-esque bully at the top of the order it would certainly represent a change of philosophy from the England hierarchy.

Which England all-rounder will stake a claim for the role?

The omission of Ravi Bopara from England’s 15 man squad came as a surprise; however with Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes all selected the hosts still have a range of options to choose from when it comes to all-rounders. Ali has the best record as a batsman in domestic cricket and his status as a spin bowler also factor in his favour, while Stokes’ impressive showing amongst the chaos in Australia last winter and his aggressive attitude make him an appealing option. Woakes, meanwhile, has steadily and somewhat quietly improved since his test debut at the Oval last August against Australia, adding a yard of pace and impressing as captain of the England Lions last winter. All three could have a role to play in the ODI series and with places on the plane to Australia for the World Cup up for grabs every single one of their moves will be closely monitored.

Can Virat  Kohli bounce back from a disastrous test series?

Kohli, the golden boy of Indian cricket, staggered to a batting average a shade over 13 in the five test series, failing to live up to his billing as one of crickets most exciting young players. His technique was revealed to be far from watertight against quality seam bowling, the likes of which was provided by James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Kohli also struggled with the short ball, a flaw that needs to be corrected if he’s to ever transfer his ODI form into the test arena. There is no doubting Kohli’s prowess in the shorter format, however, so don’t be surprised if he responds in a big way over the coming couple of weeks.

Who will man the number three position for England?

After Jonathan Trott departed the Ashes tour of Australia last winter, Gary Ballance laid claim to the coveted number three role in the test side and hasn’t looked back following a sterling summer in the format. It’s unclear, however, whether Ballance will get the chance to man the role in the ODI’s, or if he’ll even be selected. Ian Bell is set to move down the order to accommodate Hales at the top of the order alongside captain Cook, so the Warwickshire man is one alternative for the number three slot. Team director Peter Moores could even spring a surprise and fill the role with wicket keeper Jos Buttler, who does seem slightly wasted at number seven. Whoever gets first dibs on the position will be keen to impress, with a plethora of one day games scheduled over the winter culminating in the 2015 ODI World Cup.

Will Alistair Cook rediscover his one day touch?

Despite regaining form in the final three test matches of the summer, Alistair Cook still failed to reach three figures and a run of poor scores in the limited over games could lead to renewed questions about his position in the one day side. Cook’s once paced batting style doesn’t count in his favour at the best of times and the inclusion of Alex Hales indicates that team management want to play a more aggressive brand of cricket, as does the promotion of Jos Buttler to the test side. Cook deserves the chance to lead the side in a World Cup, but he might not make it that far if England are humiliated in this series by the current world champions, or if he himself doesn’t trouble the scorers.

Who do you think will win the ODI series between England and India? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley to have your say

 

 

2013/14 Ashes Grades – Australia

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Australian captain and vice-captain Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin were central to the hosts 5-0 success

 

Following on from my slightly depressing grades for the 18 players who represented England during the Ashes tour from hell, here are my marks for the victorious Australian eleven who earned the nickname ‘The Unchangeables’ after the hosts named the same team for each of the five test matches.

Chris Rogers – B+

For a man who only last year was recalled from the international wilderness Rogers rise has been remarkable as he’s become one of the cornerstones of this Australian side. His grit and determination resemble that of Justin Langer, one of his predecessors at the top of the Australian order, and after compiling two centuries, three fifties and an average of 46.30 (all without hitting a single six) Rogers can be satisfied that he made the most of his first home Ashes series. Despite battling age (he’s 36) the left-hander looks set to tour tour South Africa this spring.

David Warner – A

After his summer swing at Joe Root Warner was described as a ‘bully’ by many members of the press, a description that aptly fitted his batting after he repeatedly mauled the England attack during the 5-0 whitewash. Not only did Warner strike two tons at a lofty average of 58.11 he did so with a strike rate of 74.39, indicating the savageness of his assaults. He may not have the tightest technique for an opening batsman but Warner’s pure aggression enables him to take advantage the minute the opposition show any sign of weakness, not in a dissimilar manner to the way Matthew Hayden and Michael Slater operated in their pomp.

Shane Watson – C+

George Bailey aside, Watson had the lowest average of the Australian top seven although he did notch one century and score at over 64 runs per hundred balls. While he wasn’t as dominant as Warner or obdurate as Rogers Watson still played his part at number three, a position which has caused the Aussies headaches since the retirement of Ricky Ponting. ‘Watto’s’ bowling was as useful and economical as ever however he was unable to bowl more than 47.4 overs during the series thanks to a number of muscular aches and pains.

Michael Clarke – A-

‘Pup’ failed to score as many runs as he’d have perhaps liked during the series but he gets a high mark for his leadership alone. Even while the Aussies were losing in India and England last year Clarke received praise for his positive captaincy and imaginative approach to bowling changes and field placings, qualities that helped the team finally win a test match in 2013 at the Gabba before going on to dominate England in the final four games of the series for good measure. Clarke’s high profile run in with James Anderson may have attracted some negative press from the English media but make no mistake about it – Clarke’s teammates love playing for him and the Australian public love the aggressive brand of cricket his team are currently playing.

Steve Smith – B-

After the summer series I stated my opinion that Smith is the heir apparent to the Australian captaincy and his exploits this winter have done nothing to change my mind. An absolutely outstanding fielder, Smith has developed with the bat to the point where he can be legitimately called a test number five. Though unorthodox his stroke play is expansive and Smith has such a wide range of shots that he’s almost impossible to tie down for long periods. Two centuries at an average of 40, including a series clinching ton in Perth, well and truly announced Smith to the world stage.

George Bailey – C-

If not for some spectacular catches taken at short leg Bailey would have earned a D, however he had such an impact in the field and was brought into play on so many occasions by the hostile bowling of Mitchell Johnson and sharp turn of Nathan Lyon that it was impossible to ignore Bailey’s impact under the lid. Unfortunately for Australia’s T20 captain he failed more often than not with the bat and Bailey stands a good chance of missing out on the test tour to South Africa as a result. If he is dropped at least Bailey will always have the world record equaling over off James Anderson when he crashed 28 runs including three sixes, two fours and a two.

Brad Haddin – A+

For my money the man of the series, Haddin time and time rescued Australia with the bat. In stark contrast to his opposite number Matt Prior the Australian vice-captain was able to counter attack effectively by playing a brand of simple and aggressive cricket which left the England players flustered. Although Haddin only passed three figures once he reached fifty on five other occasions and his final average of 61.62 was outstanding, particularly when you consider he was never unbeaten at the end of an innings. His glove-work was also quietly flawless and wrapped up a fine year for the ‘keeper, who recorded a world record number of victims in England during the summer series.

Mitchell Johnson – A+

Johnson came into the series with a reputation as a wayward bowler with a slingy action who couldn’t withstand pressure. He left it as arguably the worlds premier fast bowler and unarguably the world most frightening paceman. His accuracy improved, Johnson unleashed a barrage of threatening bouncers and toe crunching yorkers, taking wickets with both and sending England batsman crawling back into their shells. Statistics can often tell the story and while they help demonstrate Johnson’s dominance they don’t explain just how afraid the England batsmen were of his 90 MPH plus pace and how he got inside their heads. Mitch also averaged 27 with the bat and while he isn’t quite a genuine all-rounder he isn’t a million miles off earning that distinction.

Ryan Harris – A+

While Johnson was England’s chief tormenter Harris wasn’t far behind and the oft-injured fast bowler certainly had the measure of visiting skipper Alistair Cook. 22 wickets at 19.31 tell represent a fine haul and his unnerving accuracy was the perfect compliment to Johnson’s hostility. If, and it remains a big if, Harris can stay fit he has a chance to become the best bowler in the world over the next twelve months.

Peter Siddle – B+

Siddle didn’t quite rack up the same amount of wickets as Johnson or even Harris but he had a profound impact on the series nonetheless by continuing to take Kevin Pietersen’s wicket. Additionally Siddle had the best economy rate of any Australian bowler, helping to maintain pressure on the English batsmen even when he wasn’t taking wickets. An underrated an valuable part of the set-up, Siddle promises to remain integral to Darren Lehmann’s plans going forward.

Nathan Lyon – B

He may be no Shane Warne but Lyon is probably the best spinner Australia have had since the famous leggie retired from test cricket in 2007. Lyon gained surprising levels of turn and bounce on relatively unresponsive surfaces and his 19 wickets complimented the pace attack nicely. He also went the entire series without being dismissed, putting the England batsmen to shame as he withstood more than a few short pitched assaults from the visiting attack.

Have your say on the ratings in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

2013/14 Ashes Grades – England

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Ben Stokes showed ability with both bat and ball during an otherwise disastrous Ashes series for England

 

There’s little left to be said about England’s 5-0 drubbing down under this winter that hasn’t been already mentioned, nonetheless here are my individual grades for the players that participated in one of the most embarrassing capitulations the three lions have ever experienced against the old enemy, Australia.

Alistair Cook (c) – F

The England skipper struggled both with the bat and with his leadership of an increasingly decimated squad, drawing criticism of his captaincy from English and Australian players past and present. Averaging just 24 with the bat Cook failed to scale the heights he achieved in his record breaking 2010/11 tour and didn’t record a century although he did manage to reach 50 on three occasions. However his inability to make the ‘daddy hundreds’ preached by his mentor and idol Graham Gooch contributed to his sides inability to pass 400 on the tour, resulting in mediocre totals that placed undue stress on a depleted and dispirited bowling unit. Cook will likely keep his position as captain although it’s debatable whether that’s more because of the faith the ECB has in him or a lack of viable alternatives in the current set-up.

Michael Carberry – D

Given the opportunity to grab the second openers spot alongside Cook the 33-year old Carberry failed to stamp his authority on opposing bowlers at international level in the same way he does for his county side, Hampshire. Carberry often got bogged down after starting his innings fluently and appeared to fall into the same mode of playing for survival that caused the selectors to controversially discard Nick Compton in 2013 despite the Somerset man notching two centuries. Unfortunately one fifty in ten innings is not test standard and when you factor in his costly drop of Brad Haddin in Adelaide it was a tour to forget for Carberry and it would be a surprise to see him in England whites again.

Jonathan Trott – F

While it’s incredibly sad that Trott is suffering from a stress related illness and I do wish him a speedy recovery there’s no glossing over the fact that in the one test he did play Mitchell Johnson exposed a major technical flaw in his game. With time not on his side (Trott turns 33 in April) and his illness still fresh it would seem that his international career is over, much as Marcus Trescothick’s was after he failed to complete an Ashes tour with similar issues.

Kevin Pietersen – C-

It was a disappointing tour for KP, who failed to hit a century after scoring heavily in Australia on his previous two visits. Two fifties and an average south of 30 is a poor haul for a player of Pietersen’s undoubted class and if England are to return to winning ways they’ll need their South African-born talisman at the heart of the batting order. Former captain Michael Vaughan has suggested Pietersen should be restored to a position of authority such as vice-captain, which isn’t a terrible idea as it could re-engage the former skipper and encourage him to continue in the side during a transitional period.

Ian Bell – D

After a fantastic home series in which Bell struck three tons the Warwickshire batsman struggled to make much of an impact in Oz, limping along to 235 runs at an average of just 26.11. Eventually promoted to number three for the Sydney test Bell has the pedigree and technique to be England’s medium to long term answer at the position should Trott not return, and despite his poor showing this winter it would be harsh to shoulder too much blame on the 31-year old following his man of the series performance back in England.

Joe Root – C-

After such a promising start to his test career Root came crashing back to earth by averaging just 27.42 with the bat over four test matches. A surprise casualty for the fifth and final game the decision to omit Root instead of Carberry raised eyebrows as the Yorkshireman is England’s most talented young batsman by quite some margin. Hopefully the decision was made to benefit Root and afford him some rest after a busy year in which he represented the three lions in all three formats as opposed to simply dropping him over a lack of form. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Root also offers a handy option with the ball and although he failed to take a wicket in his 32 overs his economy rate of barely over three was far superior to specialist spinners such as Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Scott Borthwick.

Gary Ballance – N/A

While it’s unfair to read too much into Ballance’s test debut at the SCG the pure fact of it is he struggled in both innings. It’s important to note that none of his teammates fared any better and in truth Ballance was thrown into a desperately dire situation. His technique looks solid if not watertight, and after an impressive first class season for Yorkshire in 2013 Ballance has probably earned the right to begin the English test summer at five in the order. However he’ll have to make sure he scores runs for his county in the early part of the Championship season if he’s to ward off other challengers including the likes of James Taylor and Sam Robson.

Ben Stokes – B+

The brightest light to emerge from this dark tour, Stokes demonstrated somewhat out of the blue that he has the raw talent and mental capacity to fill the all-rounders role for England for years to come. His ton in Perth on a deteriorating pitch was England’s only one of the series and his final average of 34.87 with the bat eclipsed his mark of 32.80 with the ball. Capable of hitting speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour Stokes has the pace and accuracy to trouble even the best of batsman, as shown by him dismissing Australian captain Michael Clarke on two occasions. A six wicket haul in the final test could be the first of many for the Durham man and while expectations should be tempered Stokes has every chance of evolving into a Flintoff-esque talisman for his country.

Matt Prior – D-

England’s longtime wicket-keeper batsman was dropped for the final two test matches of the series after underwhelming showings in the first three tests with both the bat and gloves. An average of 17.83 was well below Prior’s career mark of 40 plus and two missed stumpings in Perth sealed his fate for the rest of the Ashes. Fortunately for Prior his axing may have been a blessing in disguise as his replacement Jonny Bairstow was even worse in both departments and as a result you’d figure Prior will regain his place for the Sri Lanka series in the summer.

Jonny Bairstow – F

Speaking of the flame haired gloveman, Bairstow did nothing to press his case for future England consideration. After a string of disappointing performances Bairstow may have blown his chance at a test career, either as a batsman or wicket-keeper. He’s young enough that he can force his way back into consideration down the line but it would take an exceptional campaign for Yorkshire for the selectors to even think about giving him another opportunity within the next twelve months.

Stuart Broad – B+

Broad was England’s only truly consistent threat with the ball and his six wickets on the series first day in Brisbane should have sent England on their way to a commanding first innings lead. However the inability of his teammates to press home the advantage and their subsequent capitulation with the bat saw his efforts go to waste. It’s perhaps also flown slightly under the radar that Broad managed to stay healthy for an entire five match series, something that he has often failed to do in the past. His batting was also a positive, with his average of 19.37 higher than the likes of Prior, Ballance, Bairstow and Trott.

Tim Bresnan – D+

Poor Timmy was probably rushed back into the team earlier than his body would have liked and the results were predictably poor. A batting average under ten and a bowling average over 40 belied his all-rounder status and Bresnan’s reputation as Englannd’s ‘lucky charm’ is now a distant memory. Bresnan is better than he showed during this series and while it would be folly for the selectors to completely dismiss him from their plans it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they’ll move on from the barrel chested Yorkshireman and opt to try out younger models.

Graeme Swann – F

Bowling average of exactly 80? Check. Economy rate a shade under four runs per over? Check. Batting average under eight? Check. Mid-series shock retirement? Check. It wasn’t exactly a vintage series from Swann and the 2008-2012 model will be greatly missed by England as they attempt to replace him but with his elbow clearly bothering him and declining results over the past eighteen months the time had come for the off-spinner to call it day. Whether or not he was right to do so midway through a series in which the team needed all the veteran leadership it could muster is up for debate but the real shame is that it took so long for his country to recognise his talent in the first place.

Scott Borthwick – N/A

The second of England’s three debutantes in Sydney, anyone who had money on the leg-spinner to make his test debut in Australia before this series is probably rolling in money right now. Borthwick looked far from the finished product with the ball and the number of full tosses and half trackers he sent down was alarming and he hardly excelled with the bat either, making just five runs in his two innings despite a Championship season in which he passed 1,000 runs for the first time. The spin bowling cupboard for England is bare following Swannn’s retirement so Borthwick can earn first crack at the opening if he performs well for Durham before the Sri Lanka series. That’s easier said than done, though, with English wickets (Durham’s in particular) offering little to no assistance to spin bowlers during April and May.

James Anderson – C-

This grade may seem a little high but after the batsmen repeatedly let the bowling attack down it seems a little unfair to punish Anderson, who delivered a team high 190.3 overs. Despite a bowling average of 43.92 the Burnley Express held Australia to 3.22 runs per over, an economy rate that led all of England’s specialist bowlers on the tour. Anderson’s statistics haven’t been great since his heroics at Trent Bridge during the summer but he’s continued to toil away with far fewer runs to play with than in the past. Factor in the unforgiving pitches and lack of swing movement with the Kookubura ball and the raw stats aren’t quite so bad as they first appear.

Chris Tremlett – C-

The tall paceman only played in one test on the tour, the opening game in Brisbane. Tremlett was slightly unlucky to be dropped thereafter as his four wickets at an average of 30 represented a respectable haul and his average was better than anyone on the team bar Broad and Borthwick. Another member of the squad who’s fighting age, there’s almost no chance Tremlett will make another England XI thanks in large part to his declining pace and unreliable fitness.

Boyd Rankin – N/A

Irishman Rankin failed to make an impact in his only appearance of the series in Sydney, twice pulling up with muscle cramps in the first innings before recovering to take his first test wicket in the second dig. The main disappointment with Rankin wasn’t his lack of wickets but his lack of pace and bounce, attributes which led to him being selected for the tour in the first place. There’s every chance he could become a one cap wonder with a host of fast bowlers in the wings and Steven Finn likely to be given an extended run alongside Anderson and Broad during the summer.

Monty Panesar – F

Panesar’s off-field problems seem insignificant compared to his on-field struggles after he took just three wickets across two test matches at an average of 85.66. While a run in with a night club bouncer can be overlooked if you’re taking bundles of wickets it becomes more of an issue if the opposition are carting you all over the park and unfortunately for Panesar it appears he’s well and truly lost his mojo with the ball. He’s had an up and down career full of fielding mishaps, ill-timed dives and over exuberant celebrations but it finally looks as if Monty Panesar is done as a test match cricketer.

 

Australia v England – Fourth Ashes Test Preview

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A capacity crowd of 90,000 people is expected at the MCG for the first day of the Boxing Day test

 

Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground (Victoria)

Date: 26-30 December 2013

Time: 23:30 (GMT)

The Ashes may have already gone at the earliest opportunity but there’s still plenty to play for between these great rivals. Since the third test at Perth Graeme Swann has retired from all forms of cricket and with the series decided England may well take the opportunity to ‘retire’ some other senior players as they look towards the future. Australia meanwhile will be going all out to whitewash the visitors in a similar manner to the great side of 2006/7, adding to the intrigue during the final two tests of the series. With 90,000 spectators likely to be crammed into the famous MCG the atmosphere promises to be electric during one of the biggest dates in the cricket calendar offering the perfect stage for any of the 22 cricketers on display to make a name for themselves. With speculation rife regarding a number of the England teams future there’s a strong possibility that some of them could very well be playing for their international careers over the next five days.

Team News

Australia look set to name an unchanged side for the fourth successive test, a far cry from the chopping and changing of the summer series. Michael Clarke’s back and Ryan Harris’s knees have held up well so far and as Clarke pursues history there’s no chance that him and coach Darren Lehmann will take their foot off the gas.

Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England have once again been forced into making at least once change after Graeme Swann’s shock retirement, with Monty Panesar likely to replace him in the XI. Scott Borthwick and James Tredwell may come into contention for the spinners role at Sydney but for this test at least Panesar has the chance to re-establish himself as the visitors lead tweaker. Wicket keeper Matt Prior looks set to make way for Jonny Bairstow as Andy Flower looks towards the future while Boyd Rankin could make his test debut at the expense of Tim Bresnan, who appeared to be below his best at the WACA. Stuart Broad has overcome his foot injury and the likes of Kevin Pieterson and James Anderson have avoided the same treatment as Prior so they’ll keep their places in the team.

Likely team: Cook (c), Carberry, Bell, Pieterson, Root, Stokes, Bairstow (wk), Broad, Anderson, Rankin, Panesar

Pitch and weather

The second drop in surface of the series promises to offer early assistance to the seam bowlers before flattening out as the match wears on. Large boundary dimensions make the ‘G a difficult ground to take the slow bowlers on but with the wicket offering little turn it’ll still be tough for Panesar and Australian spinner Nathan Lyon to get much out of the surface.

There’s a slight chance of showers on the second day but apart from that the weather is set fair and a full compliment of overs should be completed during the five days. Temperatures on the Saturday could reach a scorching 36 degrees Celsius.

Umpires

Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena

Prediction

Following one of the most lopsided three game stretches in recent memory it will take a minor Christmas miracle for England to turn this series around and repeat their Boxing Day success from three years ago. The task will prove especially difficult without Swann but there’s a fantastic opportunity for the likes of Monty Panesar and Jonny Bairstow to cement a place in the team for the fifth test and beyond. Australian teams are famously ruthless and having smelt English blood Michael Clarke will want to be part of the second Ashes whitewash during his storied career. Unfortunately I fear that the visitors are in such disarray that there’s little they can do to bounce back during this series, especially without team mainstays such as Swann and Prior in the lineup. As a result I fully expect Australia to make it 4-0 and edge ever closer to a dreaded whitewash.

Alistair Cook’s Disastrous 100th Test and His Future as England Captain

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Alistair Cook received his first ever test golden duck in Perth courtesy of a Ryan Harris delivery

When Alistair Cook allowed himself the guilty pleasure of looking ahead to his 100th test match for England he probably envisioned a bat raised in acknowledgment of raucous applause form a partisan crowd, basking in the England captains latest record setting century. It’s all but certain that he wouldn’t have imagined even in his worst nightmare that it would transpire like it did this past week, suffering another pasting at the hands of an aggressive and ruthless Australian team which resulted in him handing over the Ashes to the old enemy.

If that sounds bad enough and you think the test couldn’t have gone any worse for the beleaguered England captain then you’d be wrong; Cook also registered his first test match golden duck during the desperate affair. When you compare Cook’s 100th test to other contemporary cricketers you can’t help but feel sorry for the man. Alec Stewart had the good fortune to score a century during his centenary match, while Cook’s opposite number during this series Michael Clarke wrestled the urn from Cook’s grasp after seven years of Australian pain this week. That both Cook and Clarke reached 100 test matches in the same game was somewhat of a coincidence, different as their paths to the landmark may have been, yet while Clarke was able to celebrate the achievement with champagne and a few lagers Cook wore a haunted look in his post-match press conference.

No matter what happens from here Cook will be remembered as one of England’s finest cricketers. He could retire tomorrow with the most centuries ever by an England test batsman and an average north of 47 – a fine figure for an opening batsman not to mention one who has to contend with the typical swing and seam associated with English conditions. Cook has also led England to a historic series win in India, something not achieved for two decades, as well as a 3-0 Ashes triumph this past summer that could well have been four – love if not for the failing light at the Oval in August.

Yet despite all this Cook is under enormous pressure heading into the final two matches of this series in Melbourne and Sydney. A 5-0 whitewash would make Cook’s position as good as untenable, much as Andrew Flintoff’s was in 2006/7 when his touring party failed to stop a rampant Australia team run the table and avenge the 2005 defeat. Flintoff compounded his poor captaincy record by taking an ill-advised trip on a pedalo during the following springs World Cup in the Caribbean, an act Cook is extremely unlikely to follow, but the real damage to his reputation was done during those five infamous tests down under. Flintoff is the only post-war England captain to suffer the humiliation of an Ashes whitewash and he never led his country in a test match again; should Cook fail to rally the troops and prevent a repeat over the coming weks he will likely lose the job himself.

Australia v England – Third Ashes Test Match Preview

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Mitchell Johnson ran riot at the WACA during the 2010/11 Ashes series against England

 

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.

Team News

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.

Umpires

Marias Erasmus and Billy Bowden

Prediction

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.