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England's WACA record suggested they would struggle and that proved to be the case with a thumping defeat
December 19, 2010
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.
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