Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day December 13, 2013

Frustrated Saker wonders about selection blunder

David Saker, England's bowling coach, made no attempt to disguise his disappointment at the end of the first day at the Waca, even conceding that England's selection might have been mistaken as a result

David Saker, England's bowling coach, could not conceal his disappointment after England "let it slip" at the Waca, suggesting that the bowlers became over excited and, as a result of their performance, even threw England's selection into question.

England brought three giant fast bowlers to Australia with the pace and bounce available in Perth very much in mind, but Boyd Rankin, Steve Finn and Chris Tremlett have all to varying degrees failed to press their claims for selection during the tour and all sat out the game as Australia amassed 6 for 326.

The reality is that rightly or wrongly England just have the tallest drinks waiters in cricket.

"We assess things all the time and try to make sure we get selection right," Saker said on Sky TV. "Like everything, we make mistakes, like cricketers make mistakes.

"We could have made a mistake this game, but I'm sure if our bowlers bowled to their capabilities we wouldn't have got it wrong. We picked the side we thought would get 20 wickets and I still think we can."

By the time he spoke to the print media, Saker had adopted a calmer analysis. "We thought that the balance of the team would be best with Tim Bresnan in," he said. "If we then bring in another tall bowler to have another quick we probably leave ourselves short somewhere else. Yes, it probably is an ideal place to have one of the taller bowlers but we thought the best balance of the team was Tim Bresnan."

Australia had slipped to 5 for 143 on an excellent batting surface before Steve Smith and Brad Haddin took the game away from England with a sixth-wicket stand of 124. It left England's Ashes hopes hanging by a thread. Two-nil down with three games to play, England are going to have to produce their best batting performance for many months if they are to avoid defeat.

While Smith and Haddin deserve credit for their batting, the cause of Saker's "disappointment" - a word he repeated seven times in his post-play media conference - was the self-inflicted nature of England's injuries.

Having selected - some might say controversially selected - a team full of accurate fast-medium swing bowlers, Bresnan included, England's tactic was clear: they were to bowl tight and frustrate Australia's batsmen.

It almost worked, too. So desperate were Australia to destroy England, to make amends for the last four years and crush their opponents into the dirt, they briefly threatened to squander their opportunity to efficiently dispose of them.

So instead of waiting for the poor ball, the Australian top-order went looking for it. Every one of the six wickets to fall owed a great deal to batsmen error, with two men falling to pulls, two more to loose drives and another to a run-out. England were on top.

But then their bowlers - experienced men who really should have known better - went chasing the game. They stopped attempting to bowl 'dry,' as the England camp call it, and instead went for the kill. They stopped delivering a nagging length outside off stump and started searching for bouncers and yorkers. Both Stuart Broad and James Anderson were timed at 90mph over the course of the day. The result was a surfeit of run-scoring opportunities which dissipated any pressure and allowed the batsmen to pick-up runs without risk.

There are mitigating factors. Losing the toss here, in scorching heat and just days after the Adelaide Test, was a tough blow, while the excellence of the pitch from a batting perspective leaves precious little margin for error.

But Broad, in particular, will be disappointed with a performance that cost 4.58 runs per over. His second new ball spell was quite ghastly.

"We let it slip," Saker admitted. "And probably not for the first time this series. We had them on the ropes and we didn't finish the job. It's partly down to the way they played with the bat, but we also didn't deliver what we should have delivered today.

"We pride ourselves on being able to hold lengths and hold good areas, bringing the batsmen forward and always making it hard for the opposition to score. It's always hard in Perth to stop teams scoring because it's a fast outfield and a good place to play your shots. We found it really hard to do that. It can be disappointing when you plan these things, but we didn't do it right.

"It's disappointing we can't finish teams off. We've usually good a good record that way and, other than today, I don't think we've done too much wrong at that stage.

"But today we mixed our lengths and went to the short ball too much. We didn't hold our lengths for long enough to put pressure on them. We know that. We're not going to shy away from that. There are some disappointed bowlers in there and a disappointed bowling coach."

England's bowlers have, by and large, performed admirably this series. They reduced Australia to 6 for 132 in the first innings in Brisbane and, had Michael Carberry taken a simple catch to dismiss Brad Haddin, would have had Australia 6 for 266 in Adelaide.

Any weakness has tended to come in the second innings when they have been forced back into action without adequate rest and with Australia's batsmen enjoying the freedom of an enviable match situation to play aggressively. But here, perhaps as a result of England's desperate position in the series, the cracks began to show.

"The disappointing thing today is we did chase wickets," Saker said. "And that's probably one of the first times we've done that as a group for as long as I've been in charge. That was a little bit disappointing.

"We didn't bowl the areas we would have liked, but we had a chance to put some really good pressure on and we didn't take that. To be fair we probably bowled a little too short. We drilled into the group not to do that but we probably got a bit excited and that's not good enough."

With the pitch likely to quicken on the second day, however, England will need a vastly improved batting performance if Ashes defeat is not to be confirmed some time over the next three or four days.

There left the debate about the fast bowlers who did not play. There was a reason that England selected three unusually tall seamers for this tour. The intention was that at least one of them would play in Perth in the hope their pace and bounce would make life uncomfortable for Australia. It looked, at first glance, an attractive proposition.

The fact that none of the three has been deemed suitable for selection raises questions about the selection or coaching of the side. It should, for example, have been obvious to the selectors that the Tremlett who played for Surrey in the 2013 county season was a lesser bowler than the Tremlett who bowled for Surrey in 2010.

Equally, it should have been obvious that this version of Finn is nothing like the bowler he threatened to become a year or two ago. On his performance on the tour to date, there is no way he could have been picked for this game. If the selectors felt that the England coaching system would work wonders on them, their naivety has been punished.

Saker's own record requires some scrutiny, too. To be presented with bowlers with such obvious attributes and make so little of them reflects poorly on him. Even Rankin, who looked so imposing towards the end of the England season, has gone backwards while on tour and was not trusted to hit the correct length here.

That is not to say the match selection was wrong. Picking Finn in such form would not have been picking a man to fight fire with fire; it would have been fighting fire with petrol. Tremlett lacks the pace to prosper at this level. It wasn't England's selection that was wrong - not on the day, anyway - so much as their performance.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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