Despite the loss of Ben Stokes before the Ashes, England were still upbeat that they had enough firepower to defend the urn Down Under. But three weeks, two humiliating defeats and a couple of bar fights later, they have reached Perth hoping for a miracle to save their blushes.
On the other side, the Aussies have little to worry about their selections for the Perth Test. Shaun Marsh has found the form he needed to justify his place in the side, while the skipper Steve Smith looks more than satisfied with the glove-work from Tim Paine. The only change, as indicated by their coach Darren Lehmann as well, could be the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh in place of a struggling Peter Handscomb.
Before the start of the third Test, here are the five aspects that need to be looked at for England.
As the former English skipper, Alastair Cook heads into his 150th Test, the occasion and circumstances are anything but auspicious. His failures in the first two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide have raised concerns among the English think-tank, so much so that Cook himself said that he is taking every game on “game-by-game basis”. With a terrible record at the WACA, where the English have not won since 1978, and the demons of 2014 in the back of his mind, a failure in Perth might just be it for Cook.
The reception by the Aussie press for the visitors was expected to be hostile, but England only made things worse by feeding the media with one controversy after another. Much of the talk leading to the Ashes had surrounded Ben Stokes, who was suspended for his involvement in a brawl outside a Bristol night-club. But the head-butting incident involving Jonny Bairstow during the first Test and the recent controversy of Ben Duckett being suspended after he poured a drink over James Anderson have only further damaged the image of the visiting side. Going into the third Test with the Ashes on the line, another controversy was the last thing England would have wanted.
Following a brilliant 83 in the first innings at the Gabba, James Vince has returned to the mean with scores of 2, 2 and 15. With the defence of the Urn on the line at the WACA, the English are likely to replace him with Gary Ballance. The Yorkshireman scored a fifty in England’s practice game against a Western Australia side, while scoring 1 and 45* against a Cricket Australia XI. But the fact that the left-handed batsman has only scored one fifty in his past 25 Test innings will carry a lot of baggage during a pressure situation at WACA. The only other batting option in English line-up is Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, but under the current circumstances, England are unlikely to hand the number three position to a debutant.
Moeen Ali has been the poster boy of English cricket over their past two summers, returning gold with both bat and bowl. Along with Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, he formed a formidable trio of all-rounders. Following the suspension of Stokes, England needed someone to step up to fill in the void, and it was the perfect opportunity for Ali to settle himself in the middle-order. But so far, he has only managed 105 runs and two wickets across the two Test matches. Even more worrying is the aspect that he has struggled against Nathan Lyon, who has taken his wicket on all four occasion. Furthermore, Moeen doesn’t need to look farther than Lyon’s exploits to see where he is lacking with the ball.
James Anderson turning up in the third innings with a five-fer was perhaps the only highlight of England at the Adelaide Oval. Given his record Down Under before this Ashes, especially his struggles in 2013-14 Ashes, this was a massive confidence booster for England’s bowling. While it is still to be seen how the WACA pitch behaves, England, lacking a pacer steaming north of 85mph, will need to stick to their plans. Mark Wood is an option, but Chris Woakes has not done much wrong either.