Cricket

Ashes 2017: England hurt by underperforming seniors; even a draw in Melbourne will be a big achievement

And so we go again.

Five-Test series are a slog for the players at the best of times, but when you are 0-3 down with two matches still to play, it must feel like a torture that just won’t end. That is exactly where England find themselves after the embarrassing innings defeat in Perth.

The things that have been blamed for England’s loss have been many and varied, from the apparently substandard nature of domestic cricket to the substandard nature of England’s behaviour at Western Australian bars. All that self-flagellation can wait; now what England need to do is find a way to prevent this from becoming a third 0-5 series loss in four trips to Australia.

Australian players celebrate after dismissing England's Alastair Cook (2L) on Day 4 of the third Ashes Test in Perth. AFP

Australian players celebrate after dismissing England's Alastair Cook (2L) on Day 4 of the third Ashes Test in Perth. AFP

There are very few changes that England can make in the hope of turning things around with the squad that they currently have.

Moeen Ali has been very poor on this tour, but the only other option in the squad is the relatively untested leg-spinner in Mason Crane. Leaving out Moeen and picking Crane would have the dual impact of making the batting worse and the bowling potentially more fragile. The option of playing both of them is unlikely in the absence of Ben Stokes as a seam bowling all-rounder.

Going into the third Test, there were calls from some to remove James Vince despite him making 83 in the first match. His excellent 55 that was ended by a Mitchell Starc wonder ball in Perth means he will keep his place. The problem hasn’t been the relatively newcomers to the side like Vince, it has been the more experienced batsmen.

Both Joe Root and Alastair Cook have massively underperformed, with Cook struggling so badly that there have been serious suggestions that his Test career is over. In truth, Cook won’t be dropped until he decides it is time to walk away, or potentially if he has an equally disastrous summer. Even then, he might survive. He has more than 11,000 runs, 150 Tests and there isn’t a replacement yet.

That England have struggled with every aspect of their game is summed up by them not only having concerns with their spin bowling, but their batting as well. Those are the standard issues wherever they go. But on this tour, they have had problems with their seamers as well.

James Anderson has done well enough; 12 wickets at 25 isn’t him at his absolute best, but at the same time, he hasn’t massively underperformed. The real worry has been his new ball partner. Between them, Anderson and Stuart Broad have more wickets in matches they have played together than any other pair of seamers in Test history, but in this series Broad hasn’t been pulling his weight.

Five wickets at an average of 61 is not the return you want from the second-highest wicket-taker in English Test history. It isn’t just Cook that is facing criticism. "I'm not sure if Stuart Broad is up to it at the moment. There will be some question marks around him,” was the assessment of former Aussie quick Mitchell Johnson.

Broad has always blown hot and cold, but he has looked particularly poor in this series, culminating in him returning his worst ever figures with 0-142 at Perth.

As it is, you suspect that England will need to replace Craig Overton who has a cracked rib, and that being the case, the chances of them even considering leaving out Broad seems extremely remote.

The choice of who comes in for Overton appears to be a straight shootout between Tom Curran, who is already in the squad, and Mark Wood, who is with the squad but not a member of it. If Wood is fit enough to get through a Test - and that is far from certain - he is in with a decent shout of getting a game, but Curran is more likely to get a call.

This is where England are right now. The players they have in the team aren’t performing and there seems very little confidence that those in the squad who could replace them will do any better. Things, you may say, could be going better.

For Australia, there is an enforced change. Starc’s bruised heel means he misses out. He will be replaced by Jackson Bird, a man who isn’t quite as quick but who has some pedigree – he has 34 wickets at 27 from his previous eight Test matches. He will do fine.

The rest of the team is very settled and will be so full of confidence they will expect to be 4-0 up by the end of this Test. And it is only really the Australians' over-confidence that could prevent that from happening.

England have a chance to reverse the decline, and at this stage anything other than 0-5 is actually something of a victory. A draw will do. A loss is more likely.

Updated Date: December 25, 2017 18:33:29 IST

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