This game is where Australia retained the Ashes and kept hopes of a second successive home Ashes whitewash alive. But it might have been better remembered for the covers not staying on the pitch. A delay of almost three hours followed, with leaf-blowers trying to dry out the pitch represented a farcical start to the day. In the end, all it did was delay the inevitable. That England were left hoping for malfunctioning covers to save them says so much about this series.
When play did get underway, Australia wrapped up a very simple victory as England’s batting failed to deliver once again, and it had nothing to do with the wet patches on the pitch.
Credit needs to be given to Australia’s bowlers who have been fantastic from the beginning of this series until they wrapped up victory with two matches to play. But England have been terrible with the bat this series. Only Dawid Malan’s reputation has been enhanced, every other player has either stood still or has gone backwards.
In every match of this series, England have either thrown away a decent position or saved their good performances until a win is beyond them. In Perth, it was the former as they lost six wickets for 35 runs after their best partnership of the tour.
Problems continue to mount for England on this Ashes tour, but the most jarring of them is the form of Alastair Cook. For so long the rock on which England’s success has been built, the opener with the most runs in Test history is looking as fragile as he ever has in his 150 Tests. 83 runs at an average of 13.83 is his worst return from any series in his career. While he has two Tests to improve that figure, there is no denying that he has had a really poor run of form.
The issue for England is that there is no ready replacement for Cook and they have tried pretty much every possible candidate for opener from domestic cricket. The only batsman with any real pedigree who hasn’t already had a crack at opening the batting in the Test team is Surrey’s Rory Burns. He is a fine player, and could well play Tests, but he isn’t demanding selection through weight of runs.
Not that England should even consider removing Cook from this side. This has been a poor series at the end of a poor year, but anyone suggesting Cook can’t come good in the very near future hasn’t been paying attention to his career to date. It might not be at Melbourne or Sydney, but Cook will find some runs sooner rather than later.
Joe Root’s form is also a worry for England, but not to the same extent as Cook’s. He has made two half-centuries, but 176 runs from six innings at an average of 29.33 is not the return that England needed from their best batsman.
While Cook and Root continued to struggle, there were positives for the visitors. Malan’s 140 and Jonny Bairstow’s 119 represented the peak of England’s batting efforts in this series to date and should have resulted in a first innings total that allowed England to boss this Test — until that unbelievable collapse.
The inability of England’s lower order to score runs, and the way that the Australian seamers have absolutely destroyed the tail, has been the difference between these two teams. There is no question that in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon Australia have a bowling attack that is far superior to England’s, in these conditions at least.
In fact, if they can stay fit and firing until 2019 you can see them succeeding in England as well. They have generated more pace, more swing and more seam movement than their English counterparts.
Then there is Steve Smith who fidgeted, poked and light-sabre leaved his way to his second Test match double hundred. When he was given out LBW for 239 on the fourth morning it was the first time England had dismissed the Australian captain with a red cricket ball in this series. England have no clue how to cope with him, but then no other teams do.
He bats in such a bizarre fashion, while actually getting into the perfect position to play the right shot at the last moment, all the standard plans mean little. It goes to show that while coaching technique plays its part, success is as much about finding your own way.
While there were positives for England with the bat, albeit before they threw away all that they had achieved in eight overs of madness, there was very little cheer for the bowlers. Australia made it to 662 for nine, the highest total ever made in an Ashes game in this country. James Anderson came back strongly on the fourth morning to claim four wickets, but the real damage was done when England managed just one dismissal on day three as Smith and Mitchell Marsh both made big hundreds.
Both teams were 368 for four in their first innings. England were all out for 403, Australia added another 294 runs and still weren’t bowled out. That sums up this match and these two teams. The most telling part of that Smith/Marsh partnership was that even with England still more than 100 runs in front on first innings you could see their heads drop. They knew they weren’t getting Smith out any time soon, and they didn’t seem convinced they could dismiss Marsh either.
In the England second innings, the same issues with their wobbly top-order continued as they stumbled to 100 for four with only James Vince looking in good touch. Unfortunately for Vince, he got a ball that he said would get him out the next 20 times it was bowled to him when Starc got one to jag back alarmingly off a crack and smash into his stumps.
Apart from the delay caused by the covers malfunctioning, it was all very straightforward for Australia as they swept aside the England tail once again. They are good value for their 3-0 lead.
The last three times England have made 400 in an overseas Test they have lost by an innings. They have lost seven successive overseas Tests. They have not lost eight matches in row in Australia. 5-0 is now a formality. If they can go from 368 for four on the first day to lose a game by an innings you can’t expect them to get a draw, let alone a victory.