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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on December 14, 2013, 18:02 GMT

    @Chris_P on (December 13, 2013, 22:48 GMT) I still find the selections baffling. Folk say our selectors don't get much wrong. I'm starting to think they get quite alot wrong

  • Alex on December 14, 2013, 4:53 GMT

    Even though bresnan is most clever of the bunch , he is good for slow low indian pitches where his cleverness can fetch wickets. Picking bresnan instead of real fast bowler is a blunder on england coaches part.

  • Alex on December 14, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    What england lack is one aggressive fast bowler. Broad is good but you need two to balance a side. Key reason for england failure other than batting lack of wickets for anderson make other bowlers looking for wickets. Also swan is neutralized here. So only broad and other bowlers has to get 7 wickets between them which not gona be easy.

    England do not want to change team like india toured australia. Sword gona come down on anderson at end of series if england do not win single Test.

    If there is no rain , aussies gona sweep.

  • a on December 14, 2013, 3:55 GMT

    Its all about being realistic. Hyping ordinary/average sportsmen as being world champions is the old English way...and its no different with Jimmy Anderson. The fact of the matter is, he's an average medium fast bowler who's experienced enough to exploit favorable English conditions against retiring/rebuilding/weak teams and coming out looking like he's the best bowler in the world. The English fans would be well advised to NOT be delusional about their bowling.

  • Trevor on December 14, 2013, 1:58 GMT

    @maximum6, no you are not playing the same side you 'hammered' in the English summer. That side didn't have a rampant Mitchell Johnson in it. Though rare in his career to date, when he is at the top of his game not even the number one ranked test team on the planet can handle him........and I'm not just talking about his bowling but his batting as well. Also, the likes of Cowan, Agar, Khawaja, Pattinson, Starc and Hughes were in that squad, none of whom are in this rendition. The closest that team came to resembling the one we have now is the one that followed the Lords debacle. Weather robbed them of victory in the 3rd test, they were narrowly defeated in the 4th and they dominated the 5th test until a VERY sporting declaration by Clarke gave England a good sniff towards the end. So, I would say you have your facts completely wrong in this particular instance.

  • Justin on December 14, 2013, 1:58 GMT

    Tremlett did nothing wrong in Brisbane. A bit down on pace maybe - he was still putting it on a dime and I think if you look at his wickets, he got all of the batsmen out where broad and Anderson prospered mainly from terrible shots...and continue to. Australia has declared 3 of the 4 innings - that's a poor reflection on the bowling group. Where was the swing yesterday? I can guarantee Johnson will get some.

  • Ron on December 14, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    There are two problems with Anderson, one is ego. He has a huge ego thrusting his arms out every time he gets a wicket and giving huge send off's. His attitude in the last series in England was over the top, no wonder the Aussies are revving him up here.The other problem is he is a very average bowler when the ball is not swinging and he drops his head. Just look at him in the last two tests and yesterday in Perth. He needs to be dropped and made to earn his spot back in the side.Give a young, keen tearaway a go!!!!

  • Dummy4 on December 14, 2013, 0:35 GMT

    I always thought that Finn would be England's Mitchell Johnson when I first saw him a few agos. But they screwed him so they have to use medium pacers on the fastest pitch on the world, lol.

  • S on December 14, 2013, 0:22 GMT

    @maximum6 did you even watch the series in England? Sure, England were the better side and, yes, they very much deserved to win. But the margin is extremely misleading. Australia were hammered in one test, the rest could have gone either way. But, hey, keep living your denial. The Aussies are by no means back to being world beaters, but they seem to have found some fight ... and some honesty.

  • Rohanj on December 14, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    It's a little ironic that in these last few years England fans have regularly maligned Australia's fast bowlers in particular, Johnson especially and not without reason for him, when their own house beneath the frontliners has been well short of ordered. But much was based on that extraordinary series three years ago when Cook hit the biggest purple patch of form in his life when perhaps even the great McGrath and Warne may have struggled to get him out on those flat decks. And everything else England tried turned to gold. Those fans seemed to think that was just normal and repeat over and over. Wrong! All the hot air about Finn seems to have been just that, he's gone backwards. This Rankin, more hot air but they won't play him. Tremlett was picked on hope and nothing else. More hot air about Onions but he's never cracked it for a regular game. England are extremely fortunate Anderson and Swan miss few games and Broads there more than not. The backup is RUBBISH!

  • No featured comments at the moment.