The Ashes: Australia v England: 3rd Test preview

13 December 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Australia v England: 3rd Ashes Test, begins Thursday at 10.30am (Local Time) at WACA, Perth

TEN THINGS WE LEARNT FROM THE SECOND TEST:

  1. If England continues this ruthless and aggressive mentality, it’ll win the series.
  2. After dropping 10 catches and ruining two run out opportunities in the opening two tests, it’s clear the Aussies are no longer the quintessential fielding side they once were.
  3. Australia’s worst nightmare has come to fruition: Kevin Pieterson has found form after a majestic 225 in England’s first innings.
  4. The current Australian bowling attack lacks ‘Warne-McGrathism’ – that is, the ability to take wickets and win matches in any situation.
  5. Ricky Ponting is feeling the full brunt of his team’s abysmal performances and unfortunately for him, that lack of confidence is now beginning to show through his best asset – his batting.
  6. Xavier Doherty is not the answer to Australia’s spin bowler issues in test matches; in fact no one knows a resolution.
  7. Marcus North may never play test cricket again.
  8. Graeme Swann is building confidence against Australia after taking five wickets and bowling England to victory on the final day.
  9. When Jimmy Anderson is swinging the new ball, he’s close to unplayable.
  10. There is nothing more humiliating for an Australian cricket supporter than to lose to England by an innings on home soil.

 

KEY PLAYERS:

The transformation of Shane Watson has been a pleasure to witness. The now New South Welshman has gone from frustrating injury-prone all-rounder to one of the most destructive opening batsman in test cricket. But the time has come for Watson to elevate himself to the next level. The 29-year-old averages 53 against England but is yet to pass 100 in any of his five matches. Australia desperately needs Watson to show maturity at the crease and turn these scores of 50-80 into big hundreds. And if he can utilise the famous ‘Fremantle Doctor’ to his advantage with ball in hand, Australia might get their Ashes aspirations back on track.

England’s top four batsmen have been receiving all accolades for their big scores so far this series, therefore Ian Bell has yet to prove to the Australian public he is a changed player. The boy from Warwickshire has been converted into a much more positive batsman and now looks to attack from the outset instead of relying on patience like he has in the past. Statistically, Australia is his second worst side to play against, averaging just 30 from 15 matches. He has never scored a 100 against the Aussies but has passed 50 on 10 occasions. The 28-year-old has batted twice this series and has impressed with two scores over 50. Bell also scored 192 against Australia A before the start of the series, so there is no questioning his recent form. He has been earmarked for greatness – maybe this game is his time to shine in the spotlight.

PITCH AND CONDITIONS:

The WACA pitch is one of the most famous decks in the world of cricket. Fast bowlers always arrive in Perth licking their lips, knowing the wicket offers a little more pace and bounce than other Australian grounds. Also the famous ‘Fremantle Doctor’ – a cool south-westerly sea breeze that drifts across Perth during summer afternoons– will assist natural swing bowlers such as Anderson and Ben Hilfenhaus. WACA curator Cameron Sutherland recently admitted there will be more grass on the wicket than usual in an attempt to force a result as soon as possible. And with fine and hot temperatures predicted for the test, a result seems inevitable.

LIKELY TEAMS:

Once again the Australian selectors have made significant changes to a team which already seems to be unsettled on the field.  The biggest selection surprise is the inclusion of Michael Beer, a left-arm orthodox spinner from Western Australia who has only played five first-class games.  He is a strong chance to replace failed experiment Xavier Doherty, however the Australians will be tempted to play four seam bowlers on the WACA pitch and include Ben Hilfenhaus instead. Simon Katich will miss the rest of the summer with an achilles injury, which had been bothering him over the past two tests, and will be replaced by Phillip Hughes. Marcus North has been shown the door after a poor run of form and will be replaced by Steve Smith, while Mitchell Johnson will be given another chance in favour of the out-of-sorts Doug Bollinger. Here is how the Australians will likely line-up:

Shane Watson

Phillip Hughes

Ricky Ponting (C)

Michael Clarke

Michael Hussey

Brad Haddin (WK)

Steve Smith

Mitchell Johnson

Ryan Harris

Peter Siddle

Ben Hilfenhaus/Michael Beer

The England team is so settled at the moment that any tinkering seems unnecessary. Why would you mess with such a thriving winning formula anyway? However they will be one forced to make one change after Stuart Broad was ruled out for the rest of the tour with a torn abdominal muscle. While Broad will aim to be fit for next year’s World Cup, the battle to replace him seems to be narrowed down to two men. If Chris Tremlett is selected, he will thrive on the fast WACA pitch and will get plenty of carry through to the keeper. However the England selectors are likely to opt for Tim Bresnan, who will skid onto the bat a little quicker and has more than enough ability as a batsman. Here is how the English will likely line-up:

Andrew Strauss

Alastair Cook

Jonathon Trott

Kevin Pieterson

Paul Collingwood

Ian Bell

Matt Prior (WK)

Tim Bresnan/Chris Tremlett

Graeme Swann

Jimmy Anderson

Steve Finn

WHO WINS THE THIRD TEST?

The Ashes are slowly slipping away from Australia’s reach and the humiliation of losing a test series to England on home soil seems imminent. One more loss and it becomes a reality.

There is a clear and distinctive chasm between the two sides at the moment. As simplistic as it is might sound, England are playing with immeasurable confidence while Australia seem dumbfounded.

The Poms currently epitomise what a sporting team should be: united, positive, resolute and efficient. Everything seems to be falling into place for them and the right decisions are being made both on and off the field. No matter how you feel about them, credit must be given where it’s due.

England just need to repeat what they’ve done so far – take early wickets and be patient with the bat. Their fielding is first class. In fact it’s hard to remember the last time an Australian side has been comprehensively out-fielded by its opposition.

However the Australians are not dead yet and shouldn’t be underestimated. To cause an upset, they must dismiss the English top order quickly and expose that the middle to lower order. Players such as Paul Collingwood, Bell and Matt Prior haven’t spent a lot of time at the crease during the series and could be vulnerable.

The man Australia must remove early is Alastair Cook. The nuggetty left-handed opening batsman is on fire and has occupied the crease longer than any other batsman for the series, facing 825 balls for 450 runs. Perhaps Mitchell Johnson is the X-factor the Australians need to dismiss Cook.

If Ponting wins the toss, he faces possibly the biggest decision of his established career. Does he bowl first and allow his fast bowlers to make use of the friendly conditions? Or does he bat first and show faith in his out-of-form top order, which includes himself? Either way, he must make the right decision because it’s now a do-or-die situation.

The pitch means a result is definite, so both teams will be keen to make inroads early. But Australia is due and Watson and Johnson are the keys. Watson makes a big hundred in Australia’s first innings and Johnson pops up with a bag of wickets, Australia’s Ashes hopes remain alive. For now.

PREDICTION:

Australia to win

MAN OF THE MATCH:

Shane Watson

Ben Waterworth is a  Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He wrote this preview from Muscat, where he is currently reporting on the Asian Beach Games. You can read even more of his work at his blog, A Short Sport Thought.