November 25, 2002

Limited options for England at Perth

The Ashes are quickly turning into a dark comedy, and one penned by a particularly cruel scriptwriter at that. Quite apart from being outclassed man-for-man, England are now facing an injury list of almost unfathomable length. Steve Waugh told the post-match press conference: "We can still lose the series." Another joke, surely?

So, if we are to believe that England will not win the Ashes, where do they go now? They will not be helped by, and will not heed, Merv Hughes' ridiculous suggestion that Nasser Hussain should be sacked. Hussain, all things considered, had a fair Test as skipper, certainly one free from howlers. What England can do is play the rest of the series one session at a time, and try to compete.

It looks as though changes will be made for Perth. Andy Caddick, who bowled so far below his potential at Adelaide that he was barely recognisable, is expected to miss out. This will give Matthew Hoggard another chance. Hoggard's performances on tour have been disappointing. He is a fine bowler, who will quite possibly take hundreds of Test wickets, but without swing is unable to trouble hungry Australian batsmen.

Caddick's injury looks to leave a space open for either Chris Silverwood or Alex Tudor. Either would shore up England's flimsy tail a little, but neither will give the likes of Hayden or Ponting nightmares. On balance, and despite the fact that he has not bowled a ball on tour, Silverwood is the better option. He is quick, and should at least hurry the batsmen at the WACA. If the tourists were to be brave, they could consider picking James Anderson. The young Lancastrian is genuinely quick and accurate, and has impressed at the Academy.

What was ultimately frustrating was the way in which England subsided after dominating the first day. Michael Vaughan is beginning to look like a great batsman, and handled himself in typically phlegmatic fashion. He has a cover-drive straight from heaven, and is developing a hook that could be just as potent. He did not seem fazed by the verbals, and scores at a terrific rate without ever looking hurried.

Vaughan's dismissal marked the beginning of a catastrophe. There is no getting away from it: England have an awful tail. They will be exposed 95 per cent of the time by one of the best bowling attacks in the history of the game. They were rolled over with the utmost ease, and Craig White looks two places too high at seven. Without a quick fix to the problem, one solution might be to consider James Foster. He is a gutsy batsman, capable of occupying the crease. He could keep wicket, releasing a little pressure on Alec Stewart. England would be denied a bowler, but the benefit of Foster's batting might just be worth it. Five bowlers have not been enough so far in the series, and the only way in which England can possibly put pressure on the Australians is by getting big runs on the board.

Steve Harmison performed well at Adelaide, bowling accurately without sacrificing pace. He looked the most likely bowler, but will need to step up his game in Perth. England have essentially lost their entire first choice bowling attack. Rather than castigation, the squad desperately needs support. Remember that Australia have not lost a Test at home for four years, that they have whitewashed India, Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies in the recent past. It would be an achievement indeed if England were able to avoid joining that list. If they are able to do so considering their injuries, they should return home as heroes.