On the second morning of the Perth Test, England were 368 for four. Over the next eight overs, they lost their final six wickets for 35 runs as they were dismissed for 403.
On the third afternoon Australia were 368 for four. They haven’t lost another wicket and have breezed to a lead of 146 by the close of play as Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh put on an undefeated partnership of 301.
These two periods of play sum up the difference between these teams. England have put themselves on the brink of match-winning positions in the opening three Tests, on each occasion they have sacrificed any advantage by a session of really poor cricket.
Australia, on the other hand, have found themselves up against it on a number of occasions. Each and every time they have found a way to turn it around, whether that was through brilliance from one of their players or the generosity of the English. Day Three at Perth saw both of these things.
Smith, who has now scored more than 1000 Test runs in each of the last four years, doing so with an average of more than 70 on each occasion, made a career best 229 not out. His second Test match double hundred came with brutal inevitability as England were ground into the dirt.
The effect that Smith had in this innings was summed up by England looking downbeat and defeated while they still had a first innings lead. His relentless pursuit of yet another big score saw England all but give up trying to get him out. They literally have no idea how to dismiss him. That they got him twice in Adelaide feels like some sort of programming error that caused the computer to glitch.
While Smith making a big score is pretty much expected, at the other end the much-maligned Mitchell Marsh was making a maiden Test hundred. Going into this match the younger Marsh brother averaged 21.74 from 21 Tests. He had made two fifties in 35 innings. While the potential for him to balance this Australian side as a bowling all-rounder was there, he has never actually looked like becoming the player the selectors wanted him to be.
Despite Glenn Maxwell blasting runs in the Sheffield Shield, the selectors went back to Marsh for this Test when they decided to dispense with the services of Peter Handscomb. This was a decision that was heavily derided. The way England bowled to him, they clearly wanted to prove the Australian selectors right.
Marsh played very well, especially when driving the ball down the ground, but there was so much stuff that was short, wide or short and wide. It allowed him to make the most of a very flat pitch on his home ground.
There has been so much talk of England lacking pace, and they do. But the bigger issue is that they have consistently bowled the wrong lines and lengths. That has had a far bigger impact on England failing to take wickets than sending the ball down at 84 mph rather than 92 mph.
By the evening session, England were a demoralised mess. They fell into a holding pattern waiting for a declaration. Marsh made 181 not out as England went from giving up trying to dismiss Smith to giving up trying to take wickets at all.
Stuart Broad and James Anderson went wicketless, Chris Woakes managed one victim. It was the guy playing his second Test, Craig Overton, who was the best of the seamers, and by a distance. That, it is a young guy so early in his career that is out-bowling England’s two highest wicket-takers in their history is hugely concerning.
As for Moeen Ali, he has been badly exposed on this tour. He took a wicket here, his first since the opening innings of this series in Brisbane, when he had Shaun Marsh caught at first slip, but he has been neither a consistent wicket-taking threat or able to keep the scoring rate down. England’s decision to pick a work-experience kid as their second spinner on this tour is one of the more questionable decisions in squad that is full of question marks.
England could still get something out of this Test, but the best they can hope for is a draw. What they need for that to happen is to put together a second successive good batting effort, something they haven’t managed on this tour so far. This pitch is a flat one, there have been four hundreds so far and once the new ball has been navigated, there is very little threat in this surface.
When Australia do decide to declare England’s batsmen will be under massive pressure. When that has happened in recent years, they have crumbled. In both Chennai and Mumbai last winter, they scored more than 400 in the first innings and went on to lose by an innings. There is a real danger of that happening again in Perth.
If England do lose here, it will be their seventh consecutive defeat in an overseas Test. Under Trevor Bayliss’ reign as coach, they have won just three Tests from the 18 they have played away from home. The inability of this team to compete overseas, and their propensity to crumble when behind in the game, is a huge worry.
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