Before this match began there was a big splash on the front page of the British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, about an alleged plot to influence the outcome of the Perth Test by crooked bookmakers. It doesn’t take foreknowledge gained through nefarious means to let you know how an Ashes Test at the WACA will play out. England are on the brink of another loss in Western Australia, a state where they have one 40-year-old win in 14 matches. The prospect of rain on day five is their only hope.
Records tumbled on day four, but none of them were good news for England. Australia made their highest ever total in a home Ashes series and their third highest total at home against any opponent. The only time Australia have scored more runs at the WACA was when Matthew Hayden made a then world-record 380 against Zimbabwe. Stuart Broad recorded his worst ever Test bowling figures, the 0-142 he managed has only ever been “bettered” once in Ashes Tests when Andy Caddick returned with figures of 0-146 at the Oval in 2001.
The fourth day started off in the best possible way for England. James Anderson had both not out batsman dismissed inside the first 20 minutes as England decided to put in a decent bowling performance once the match was already gone, for the second Test in succession. Such was the match situation that the quick wickets almost hurt England, the quicker they got through Australia the longer they would have to bat to save this Test. The time for a wicket-taking spell was 100 overs earlier.
As it was, England need not have worried about dismissing Australia quick enough for them to batting in the opening session of the fourth day. Tim Paine made 49 not out and Pat Cummins continued to impress with the bat with his 41 from 63 balls as Australia got to 662 for nine.
That spell from Anderson aside, England’s bowling has been less threatening than a friendly headbutt from Jonny Bairstow. Moeen Ali never looked like replicating the one wicket taking ball he managed on the third day, and Broad didn’t even look that potent. Chris Woakes bowled the occasional ball that caused some issues, but more often than not it was all too easy for the Australians.
There will be talk of bowlers being dropped, but that will achieve very little. There just isn’t that many alternatives, either in this England squad or outside it. It already seems unlikely that Craig Overton will be fit for the Melbourne Test. He has a cracked rib and it is amazing that he has done as much as he has in this match. Expecting him to be fit for the MCG is too much to ask. So that leaves England having the choice of going back to Jake Ball who failed to deliver in Brisbane, picking Tom Curran for a debut or selecting a player from outside the squad.
Under these circumstances you suspect England will be tempted to go for Mark Wood who has been in Australia with the Lions squad. He has been much-vaunted in recent weeks, players that are not in a losing team always get better in the minds of those watching their team stumble to defeat after defeat. But Wood has struggled badly with injury and form in recent times and averages more than 40 from his 10 Test appearances. He isn’t the tearaway quick that people seem to think he is, but as things stand England doing something different is about all they have left.
When the declaration mercifully came things did not improve for England. A tentative poke from Mark Stoneman saw him caught at the wicket. Then Alastair Cook was gone cheaply once again, brilliantly caught by Josh Hazlewood off his own bowling. Cook now has 83 runs in six innings and hasn’t made a fifty in his last 10 knocks–his worst run of form in his career.
If Cook was a newcomer, he would already have been left out of the side, but he isn’t. He is a man with more than 11,000 runs in Tests and a double hundred in the last series he played. As with the bowlers, if there were other players hammering down the door to the England dressing room with their on-field performances you could think about dropping Cook. But England still haven’t found a permanent replacement for Andrew Strauss who retired more than five years ago. For now at least, England have no choice but to continue with Cook at the top of the order.
England’s other key man, Joe Root, also failed. Root has fewer runs in six innings (176) than Mitchell Marsh has managed in his one knock (181). Here he had a drive at a wide ball from Nathan Lyon and was caught at slip after the ball deflected off the keeper. The issue wasn’t so much the choice of shot, it was a poor ball that deserved to be punished, it was poorly executed by a man struggling for runs.
James Vince played really well for his second fifty of the series before a ridiculous ball from Mitchell Starc did him in. Full, fast and heading down the leg side, it jagged back violently to smash into his off stump. Starc could have told Vince exactly what he was going to bowl and it still would have knocked his stumps down.
England were 100-4 at the fall of Vince’s wicket, still 160 runs away from making Australia bat again. The only glimmer of hope is that it was when Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow came together with their team four wickets down in the first innings that England actually did well with the bat. The two made it an early close when rain arrived, but you would have to say that without losing at least a whole session to more bad weather on day five this will be another England defeat.