Australian selectors face tough calls
Replacing Simon Katich for the third Test is the easy part for Australia. Deciding what to do with the rest of the side in Perth is the difficult bit.
Marcus North, Xavier Doherty, Doug Bollinger and Peter Siddle will be wondering if they still have a spot when the squad is named on Friday. Ricky Ponting and Andrew Hilditch discussed the make-up of the unit after the innings loss in Adelaide on Tuesday and had to decide how many changes to make - and whether any of them would make a difference.
The simplest decision surrounds the new opener. Phillip Hughes, who scored 86 not out in his last Test in March, is the leading candidate to come in for Katich on December 16, while Usman Khawaja would also be a capable choice. Every other issue is much more murky.
Ponting's experiment with Doherty failed over two Tests, with the left-arm spinner taking three wickets at 102 and causing more trouble for the scorers than any batsman. Nathan Hauritz is in form after career-best figures for New South Wales last week, but returning to him so soon would require a serious selection back-flip.
Steven Smith, the legspinning allrounder, took four wickets at the SCG on Tuesday, but he is not yet qualified at Test level as a batsman or a bowler. There may be no other choice than to go with Hauritz, who is a superior bowler at home than away. The confusion over the quality of the slow men will probably provide North with one more chance, despite him scoring 22 and 26 and going wicket-less with his offies in Adelaide.
"He'll be a bit disappointed with his week's work here," Ponting said of North. "I still believe that he's got great value to the team."
The fast bowling is another huge issue after the attack managed only 16 of 30 possible wickets in the past two Tests, and 10 of those came on the opening day of the series. Ponting said Doug Bollinger "hit the wall" during England's 5 for 620 declared, so the left-armer will be the first quick out. The step up in class that the tourists provided showed Bollinger was workmanlike rather than exceptional, and Australia currently have two superior men in that regard in Ryan Harris and Siddle.
Harris was Australia's best bowler in the second Test, taking 2 for 84, and will be a starter in Perth as long as his wonky knee holds up. Siddle's reputation has diminished significantly since he grabbed six wickets on the first day in Brisbane. Since then he hasn't managed one breakthrough in 54 overs and will be vulnerable if Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus have responded well to their Adelaide axing. The sad fact for Australia is that these men remain the best options despite their impotency over the past fortnight.
Ponting spoke before his discussion with Hilditch and made it clear that he didn't have a say in who would be picked. He did provide a glowing reference for Hughes, 22, who was dropped for the first time during the 2009 Ashes when he struggled with Andrew Flintoff's short balls.
"I'll be surprised if it's not him who comes in," Ponting said. "We know what his international record is like."
Hughes scored 81 for Australia A against England last month and was 80 not out in a one-dayer for New South Wales on Saturday. But he was dismissed for 4 against South Australia in the Sheffield Shield today. "He's got a few runs under his belt lately," Ponting said. "He's probably the first cab off the rank."
Whatever the selectors decide, Australia face a serious overhaul to avoid further Ashes humiliation at home over the final three Tests. "No doubt it's a bad loss for us, there's no hiding that fact," Ponting said. "I think they out-batted us, out-bowled us and out-fielded us in the entire game." If England continue to fire, any Australian changes are unlikely to have anything more than a cosmetic effect.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo