Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 19, 2010

A proper Perth whacking

England's WACA record suggested they would struggle and that proved to be the case with a thumping defeat

The WACA is the venue that packs an onomatopoeic punch, and England, in keeping with their terrible record at the ground, were whacked out of sight this week, good and proper. One victory in 12 visits is how their statistics now read, after a performance that might feel entirely familiar to the cricket-watching fraternity in Perth, but seems totally at odds with the confidence and expectation levels that England harboured coming into the contest.

To write their defeat off to old-fashioned English complacency would be to do a disservice to an exceptional and career-transforming spell from Mitchell Johnson (not to mention another staggeringly composed century from Australia's second renaissance man, Michael Hussey) but there's no question that England were caught off guard this week. Ricky Ponting said before the match that the WACA conditions would be the most alien ever encountered by England's batsmen. To judge by their downfall, he was proved entirely right.

"I may have mentioned that coming into the game," said Ponting. "I'd seen some other results in places around the world that they'd had, I know a lot about their stats and their facts and figures here at the WACA which don't make for flattering reading, so I felt this was a good week for us. We play these conditions really well so it is just as much about how we play as the opposition play. I know for a fact that there are a lot of times that the England team come here and make scores below 200 and we've done that to them twice this week."

Could it be that England allowed themselves to be duped? Their exhaustive planning for this campaign involved ten straight days in Perth at the very start of the tour, but the pitch that they encountered in their three-day warm-up against Western Australia was nothing like as lively as this. Cameron Sutherland, the WACA curator, told Andy Flower there and then to expect extra bounce for the Test match, but the message was lost in translation as England honed their strokeplay on a succession of placid decks at the Gabba, Adelaide and latterly against Victoria at the MCG, on the slowest pudding they've played on in months.

Andrew Strauss, inevitably, was dismissive of that notion. "I don't buy into that theory that it's just because of bounce we got bowled out," he said. "I just think we didn't react well to a couple of good spells of bowling. Mitchell Johnson started swinging it and before we knew it we had lost three batsmen to lbw. As I have said before, the issue to address is if you lose one or two wickets you make sure you don't lose three, four, five in a row."

But the very fact that England couldn't pick themselves up off the canvas suggested that they were unprepared for the chinning they received in this Test. Instead they crashed to their sixth straight defeat at the WACA, and - true to Ponting's research - their seventh sub-200 total in their last 12 innings, in which time they've exceeded 300 just once. And since their high-scoring draw in 1986, which also happened to be the last time England successfully defended the Ashes in Australia, the nature of the beatings have been particularly traumatic as well.

Today, England's second-innings 123 was the same that they mustered on this ground 16 years ago, when Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting were dispatched into retirement in the midst of a collapse of 6 for 27 - but despite the similarity of the result, the circumstances this time are very different

First there were two "goodnight-and-p***-off" uppercuts in 1990-91 and 1994-95, as the tourists were routed in the final matches of the rubber; then came two Ashes-sealing crushings in 2002-03 and 2006-07, which were marked by brutality of differing types from Brett Lee with the ball and Adam Gilchrist with the bat. In between whiles there was an agenda-restoring victory in 1998-99, after a thunderstorm had saved England from certain defeat at the Gabba a fortnight earlier.

Today, England's second-innings 123 was the same that they mustered on this ground 16 years ago, when Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting were dispatched into retirement in the midst of a collapse of 6 for 27 - but despite the similarity of the result, the circumstances this time are very different. Eighteen months ago at Headingley, they were left facing an even more traumatic scenario, after an innings defeat in the penultimate Test had placed the onus on England to win at The Oval to reclaim the Ashes - which they did. This time at least they are holders, which gives them two shots at a single decisive victory in the course of the festive finale.

"In 2009 it was a see-sawing series and there's no reason to expect this one not to be," said Strauss. "But up until this game our cricket has been very consistent. We dropped off this game, there's no doubt about it, but if we can regain those levels of consistency then we've got a fair chance of going on and winning the series. At the same time as a batting line-up we will be very disappointed with our two performances. We've got to take it on the chin, learn the lessons and move on."

As England showed all through the summer against Pakistan, they have a collective vulnerability against the moving ball - a trait that another of the world's best batting teams, India, showcased in damp conditions on the first day at Centurion this week. The Highveld, of course, was the scene of another of England's remarkable recent capitulations, as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel destroyed them in Johannesburg back in January. But when the going has been good, few line-ups have been better at cashing in than England, and it's a fact that they will cling to as the intensity of the series steps up.

"We were in a very good position to take control of the game but we weren't able to do that and you have got to give Australia a lot of credit for the way they bowled," said Strauss. "At the same time we have got to keep perspective about things and realise there has been a hell of a lot of good batting on this tour so far. We have no reason to expect that to be any different going forward."

As England move forward to Boxing Day at Melbourne, however, there will scarcely be a backwards glance at the WACA. It's not a venue upon which England teams like to dwell.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cameron on December 21, 2010, 18:03 GMT

    rvp68: "And can India rebound and show some mettle? ".....ahhhhhh, who cares mate, the Ashes is on!! Think you're in the wrong blog...

  • Nish on December 20, 2010, 16:28 GMT

    @staalBurgher - Frankly I don't know which test in India in recent years was just a minefield of a spinning track that the match ended in three days! Most pitches in India are so dead that most batsmen [including that from visiting Test teams] have made hay & scored tonnes of runs whilst the bowlers of both sides have toiled without much reward. These pitches don't even break up on the 4/5th days & which is why even Harbhajan & fellow spinners in the Indian team have struggled to take wickets! The ONLY poor spinning strip I can remember is one many years ago in Mumbai where India beat the Aussies in three days [after I think already losing the series] when even Michael Clarke took took 5/6 wickets in an innings - which remains his best bowling to date!

  • Gerald on December 20, 2010, 10:29 GMT

    @yomeshk, for the love of cricket, please get this in your head. People DO NOT complain about SPINNING tracks in India! We complain about tracks on which BOTH teams can't score more than 200 and the game ends on Day 3! There is no problem with making conditions to suit the home team.

  • Nish on December 20, 2010, 8:59 GMT

    @SagirParkar - the press here is 'strangely' suddenly more muted after the Perth result yesterday! Maybe reality has dawned! Maybe they now know their team is not really as good as they think they are - even despite filling nearly half their team with South Africans!!! Maybe after India's thumping loss at the Centurion today, India needs to copy England in this regard by enticiing a few young promising Pakistani pace bowlers into their team to replace their feeble bowling attack!

  • Giles on December 20, 2010, 2:43 GMT

    Colly looks like he's lost the guts for a fight. Bring in Morgan, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve and is champing at the bit !

  • Andrew on December 20, 2010, 1:57 GMT

    I knew all along that Oz have the players that can win the Ashes & go to the top of the Test Rankings again. The piece of the formulae that is still missing is the Punter of Old. We may never see him in full flight as often as once upon a time but I feel that a ton is just around the corner - he has a pretty good record at THE G. I think Pup will have a couple of decisive innings before the series is out - surely Hussey is due for a few failures. The only change I would make is Hauritz in for either Siddle or Hilfy, Hilfy would be unlucky as I thought he swung the ball more then Harris - but had no luck. The pitch may suit Siddle's bang it in approach. Beer I think is NOT the answer for this match - I would of played him if we had lost @ the WACA. I think Oz will head into the 5th Test with a 2-1 advantage, lots of pressure then on England as Swann will have a lot to prove there. I also think that Finn is overrated, (conceed he as great stats though!), he has a 3rd grade run up.

  • Nishidh on December 20, 2010, 0:18 GMT

    Australia never learn to die till end. They level the series. They will surely fight for the rest of the series to win it for 3-1. It is not suprise for them. England needs to counter attack and atleast draw the rest of the matches, if they really want to defend the ASHES.

  • Neil on December 19, 2010, 23:48 GMT

    SWANN maybe the best spinner in the world. Murali, Harbajan Singh, Saqlain Mustaq and even the greatest of English offspinners, Jim Laker were also the best spinners in the world at the time they came to Australia and all were fairly unsuccessful. History shows that offspinners have never been the cause of visitors beating Australia in Australia. Frank Tyson, John Snow, Joel Garner, Curtley Ambrose and endless other West Indian quicks have been the ones who have enalbled visitors to win in Australia, never offspinners. Does anyone really think Swann is that much better than the great Murali that he can do what Murali didn't. I have great doubts. I believe it will be Anderson, Tremlett & co that will be the major forces if England get up, not Swann. In this context, Broad is a massive loss.

  • andrews on December 19, 2010, 22:44 GMT

    A high-scoring score. That's a great piece of English. Is it onomatopoeic? And let me just check: your description of India as 'another of the world's best batting teams'-does that mean you are suggesting that England are one of the world's best batting teams? If you are, your delusion continues. As deluded as the poms who call England the 'new Australia.'

  • richard on December 19, 2010, 22:27 GMT

    The best thing about Australian grounds is that they all have a different character. GABBA: Lively day 1, great to bat 2-3 and starts to assist spin 4/5. WACA traditionally a bouncy lively wicket, and this year was a step in the right direction. Adelaide - a batsmans paridise, but will help spinners mid to late day 4-5. MCG - usually low and slow, but drop in wickets have rarely broken up. SCG - spinners paradise.

    What is even better about them is that if CA or players or anyone tries to get in the road and direct the curators on how to prepare their wickets then the curators will tell them where to go even if it does not suit Australias position in the series. I still think England will retain the ashes unfortunately becuase of Swann. He has been well dealt with this series but the SCG is where he will take a big bag.

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