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Spectre of the whitewash will test Root's belief

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Should England shake things up for Perth? (1:11)

Graeme Swann weighs in on the changes he would make ahead of the third Test at the WACA (1:11)

Of course Joe Root said England could still retain the Ashes.

You could hardly expect anything else. Even if his exact words - "we are still massively in this series" - sounded as if he were protesting a little too much.

And, on a level, he probably believes it. It is true that England have shown, in glimpses rather than for sustained periods, that they can compete against this Australia side. And Australia have, as Trevor Bayliss put it, shown "enough frailties" to provide some encouragement.

But you have to go back to 1936-37 to find an example of a team winning the Ashes from a position where they were 2-0 down. And that was Australia in Australia. Bearing in mind England's record in Australia in recent times - they have now lost seven Tests in a row and 13 of the last 17 here - and their record in Perth, in particular (England's only win at the WACA came in early 1979 against an Australia team weakened by World Series defections), and it becomes hard to be wildly optimistic.

England have been here before, of course. The scoreline was the same at this stage of the 2013-14 series and Alastair Cook, the captain of the time, was asked many of the same questions put to Root after this game. He tried to be positive, too, though he wasn't terribly convincing.

This does feel a bit different. Good though the Australia attack is, it does not contain the threat of Mitchell Johnson (or Ryan Harris) and it does not feel that many of this England side - Cook, perhaps, apart - are coming to the stage of their careers that the team of 2013-14 had reached.

Crucially, there is also a difference in the mood and management of this England squad. For all the good things Andy Flower did for English cricket - he presided over what was probably the best period in their recent history - he had become something of an ogre by the time England reached Perth in 2013. There is a lightness of touch among the current England management that might prove an asset in this situation. Tellingly, very few of the Test team are expected to train for the next few days with the emphasis instead on taking a mental break.


But, after four innings, England have a top score of 302 and have only once reached even 235. None of their batsman has scored a century - Ben Stokes was the only man to score one in 2013-14 - and the only man averaging even as much as 36 is Craig Overton, who has only been dismissed once. For all that their bowlers let them down in the first innings of this match, for all that the toss decision was a surprise (though a reasonable one), it is England's batting that remains the real problem. It has been the problem since 2013, really, and the decline of Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, the axing of Kevin Pietersen and the failure to find a long-term opening partner for Cook.

Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan have both shown promise but, after five and seven Tests respectively, they have top Test scores of 53 and 65. James Vince, beautiful but fragile - a chandelier, basically - has one half-century from his first nine Tests. You don't win games that way.

"We have shown throughout the two games that for periods we can outperform Australia," Root said. "But we've got to do it for five days not one or two. If we can perform to our ability for longer periods of time we will win games.

"We could have batted a lot better in the first innings here. We definitely under-performed. And with the ball we could have bowled fuller on that first morning when it was doing plenty. Those two areas are where the game went in Australia's favour."

Root was on the 2013-14 tour, of course. He likened the experienced to "walking in to a conservatory door" in terms of the shock he experienced and was, for the only time in his Test career, dropped before the end of the series. So while you would expect him to deny the same direction of travel this time - "I would say I strongly disagree with anyone who says we're going to lose 5-0," he said - he was convincing when pointing out the differences.

"I don't think we are in a situation that we were last time we were here," he said. "We are in a much better place than that. There is still a lot of confidence going into that next game. The belief in the dressing room is definitely there.

"We are playing better cricket this time around. I don't think we are us unevenly matched as last time. These two games have ebbed and flowed and we have been in control for periods of the game which I don't think necessarily that was the case last time. We just have to try and expand those periods."

It does not appear England are about to make any changes to their team selection. While a few players from the Lions squad will be brought in for the two-day warm-up game at the weekend - it seems Moeen Ali, who has clearly not had the amount of bowling he required coming into this series, may be the only one of the Test team to play in that match - it would be a surprise if any of them play in the Perth Test. Mark Wood could, at a push, change that if he has an exceptional match, but those seamers who he might have replaced - Chris Woakes and Overton - almost certainly did enough across the course of the match to retain their places. "I can't see any reason to change the team for the next Test," Bayliss said.

It doesn't appear the batting order will change much, either. According to Bayliss, Bairstow has told the team management "he felt more comfortable at No. 7" while Moeen "has been wanting to go up the order for a while."

"We had Jonny at No. 5 in the home summer," Bayliss said. "But he felt comfortable at No. 7. Malan has shown he's good enough but, like most of the others, he has to do it for longer."

Bayliss, too, remains confident. While he accepts Nathan Lyon's bowling - he has 11 wickets at 22.72, so far, providing his captain with both bite and control - is a major issue, he feels England have shown, with bat and ball, that they have what it takes to win if they can only sustain their performances for longer.

"They are certainly beatable," Bayliss said. "There's enough frailties in the Australian team that we can exploit. We are getting confident that we have a better idea of where to bowl to them.

"But where they have been better than us is that they have had two guys score hundreds and Lyon has been outstanding.

"Our blokes are good enough to make hundreds. If you've made a 50, which they have, they can make hundreds. You just have to do the same thing again."

While it is true that England have had periods where they have competed, it is also true that, whenever there has been a key passage of play - such as the first session of the final day here - someone in the Australia side has stepped up and made a difference. Here is was Josh Hazlewood, who bowled a wonderfully, probing spell. And while Root might have been a little unfortunate to receive one that kept a little low, he will know that is the price you pay when you win the toss and elect to bowl first. Besides, Root was honest enough to accept his footwork "might also have been better."

"In big series your senior players have to step up and lead from the front," Root said. "I tried to do that on the fourth evening. Unfortunately, I could not carry that on and that is really disappointing. I've been concerned about not converting my 50s into 100s for a long time now. It hurts me personally a lot."

Can England come back from 2-0 down to retain the Ashes? Yes, it's possible. But the thought persists that, with the slow pitch at Brisbane and the pink ball and movement at Adelaide, England have already experienced the most favourable conditions they are likely to see on this tour. In terms of conditions and the confidence of the respective squads, life is not about to get any easier.