Tale of two tails tells the tale of England's Ashes struggle

Australia channeling the Mitchell Johnson 'snowball effect' (0:57)

Josh Hazlewood on how the Australians have targeted England's tail in an effort to unsettle them. (0:57)

Wickets fall fast at the WACA Ground. Australia have beaten England here in two and a half days (1998), and lost to West Indies even faster than that (1993).

Even in the ground's more recent, less lively years, the extra bounce means it is still a difficult place to start an innings, often resulting in days of free and rapid scoring that are followed by sessions in which the bowlers dominate. So when Australia gave up 3 for 12 early on the fourth day it could quite easily have been expected to be followed by another three rapid wickets and the cessation of the innings.

James Anderson, after all, was moving the ball through the air and off the seam, the WACA Ground's cracks were opening up, and Australia's bowlers were impatient to set about England's second innings. But instead of the procession continuing in more typical WACA fashion, a crowd of 18,688 witnessed the maintenance of a theme dictated more by the nature of this Ashes contest than the locations at which it has so far been played.

Pat Cummins has so far been a thorn in England's side when batting in each first innings, and in the company of a doughty wicketkeeper in Tim Paine he was to be one again. Despite numerous balls snaking along the ground or deviating sharply off the cracks, Cummins made it to 41 in adding 93 with Paine, extending Australia's innings until it became their highest Ashes tally since Cardiff in 2009, while also keeping England's fielders on their feet for another 21 frustrating overs.

As a batting talent, Cummins has plenty to offer, as he has now shown in numerous pressurised situations, whether it be shovelling the winning runs off Imran Tahir at the end of his storied Johannesburg debut in 2011, hitting out in a narrow loss to Bangladesh earlier this year, or repeatedly foiling England's attempts to push further into the Australian tail. Mitchell Starc had no qualms recently in saying he was happy for Cummins to move up the order, while the bowler himself has commented this series on his strong desire to keep England's bowlers out in the middle for extended periods, the better to aid the overall team cause.

All this is indicative of a team operating in sync, as batsmen and bowlers alike see their role as making as many runs as possible while discomforting the opposition, and of a lower order enjoying the fact that those above them are making runs that mean things are not quite so hot when it is eventually their turn to bat. When looking for areas of required improvement ahead of this Ashes series, greater effectiveness from the middle order and tail was high on the list of the coach Darren Lehmann, with the displays of Shaun and then Mitchell Marsh at No. 6 aiding Paine and in turn Cummins to contribute further.

However there is another side of the lower-order tale, which involves looking across at the state of England's bowlers with the bat. Just as surely as Cummins' confidence has grown across the series, so too has that of Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad and James Anderson ebbed away. Moeen's difficulties in dealing with bounce have gradually compounded against both spin and speed, while Broad and Anderson have grown increasingly hesitant about spending too much time exposed to Australia's pacemen.

As a younger player, Broad was very much in the Cummins mould, showing plenty of talent for shotmaking but also a willingness to hang around. His batting peaked at the age of 24 with an extraordinary innings of 169 from No. 9, the same spot occupied by Cummins, against Pakistan at Lord's. But time, several ugly blows including a sickener from Varun Aaron in 2014, and the mental hurdle of Australia's greater velocity have all compounded to have him looking less and less likely to pose a problem.

Anderson, meanwhile, is nowhere near as capable, but has in the past been willing to hang around when required - such as at the end of the aforementioned Cardiff match in 2009 when he and Monty Panesar secured the most fortunate of draws. Yet even when asked earlier in the series about his prospects if required to help conclude an unlikely fourth-innings chase in Adelaide, Anderson could say he was only good for around 10 runs needed.

The sight of Broad and Anderson flailing about at the conclusion of England's first innings on day two was a source of considerable satisfaction for the Australians, for it proved they had once again imposed a sense of trepidation in England's tail that outstripped any desire to hang around for the good of the team. Certainly Josh Hazlewood saw it that way, and contrasted it directly with what Cummins had been able to provide.

"We work hard on our batting all the time and I think we've seen Patty Cummins especially this year hang around with a batter or with the tail and score some useful runs," Hazlewood said. "We pride ourselves on that and we've made their tail feel very uncomfortable and they were obviously a bit sore the day before yesterday, they didn't want to be out there and we'll continue to use the same method we have been. We saw with Mitchell Johnson last time it just kept snowballing as the series went on, so we'll keep continuing to do that and hopefully have the same results."

Australia had been very eager to remind both themselves and England of 2013-14 in the lead-up to this encounter, to the extent that the captain Steven Smith said he wanted to have some of the older visiting players to be thinking "oh not this again" after their difficulties four years ago. While the personnel on both sides is different, the lower-order theme has been remarkably similar, this time personified by Cummins where last time it was largely the work of Brad Haddin, now the team's fielding coach.

At the same time, England's dressing room conversations can only be guessed at, but the recollections of Graeme Swann give some idea of how things deteriorated in terms of how other viewed the bowlers' attitude to batting. "[Graham] Gooch had a go at me and Broady for not scoring many runs," Swann told the BBC.

"And as Stuart pointed out very succinctly, we go in at eight and nine for a reason. If we go in at 300 for 6, we'll get you another 100 runs. If we go in at 80 for 6 and Johnson's only bowled three overs, we're not, mate. And that wasn't taken well. 'Don't blame our batsmen, it's your fault, you've got to chip in down the order'. The wheels had fallen off: who can we blame?"

Add to all this the missing heft of Ben Stokes, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that England's lower order is not just a source of trouble for the tourists, but a symptom of wider issues within. Equally, its under-perfomance relative to Australia means that the hosts are not fretting much at all about the unseasonal rain that has descended on Perth towards the end of this Test. All available evidence suggests they need only one or two breakthroughs to quickly roll up the rest, as so much WACA Ground history dictates.