Jordan swings into contention
After two matches in three days, both of contrasting tempo and drama but both falling Australia's way, the working week between Sydney and Perth provides England with a welcome break. Alastair Cook, who seems to have developed a dismay-induced twitch, could do with spending these days in a flotation tank pumped full of whale noises and opium.
With the series already gone, the hosts are doing their utmost to ensure that any England victory at the WACA will be a hollow one, resting a host of their big guns. At a glance, George Bailey will captain, Matthew Wade will keep wicket and Prime Minister Tony Abbott could be asked to take the new ball. The fourth ODI will tell us more of Australia's depth than England's will to awaken from this defeat coma.
If Ashley Giles and, potentially, Cook are to build effectively for next year's World Cup, they will need to strip the absolutes of these first three results, in the games that mattered most, and look at what they have to work with.
Cook and Ian Bell's partnership at the top of the order in games two and three; Gary Ballance's 79 at the MCG; Eoin Morgan's century at the Gabba, coupled with Jos Buttler's contributions in the last 10 overs to take England to 300. These suggest the batting is in a sound place.
It's a trickier task picking out positives from the bowling, but there are certainly some key points for reflection. They whittle down to the good (Chris Jordan), the fad (Ben Stokes) and the struggling (Boyd Rankin).
Revitalised by moving to Sussex last year, Jordan has been the pick of the bowlers so far. His pace has been consistently high and he has relished the challenge of international cricket, even if he hides it well behind a serene exterior.
Brett Lee, captain of the Prime Minister's XI, was a fan after one viewing, as Jordan was unlucky to finish with just one wicket from his five overs in England's rare victory in Canberra last week. "Someone who has got serious raw pace and can swing the ball away is destined to get a lot of wickets," Lee said. He'd know. But those qualities did not come easy to Jordan.
As a kid, Jordan indulged in all the bad habits young bowlers adopt in the pursuit of speed. His run-up was a lengthy 25 steps, which he would sprint through with an erratic stride pattern. At the crease, he would fall away and his wrist position left a lot to be desired. Any swing he did impart was coincidental and wayward.
Not surprisingly, stress fractures of the back followed, and Jordan missed the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Then came clarity, through a desire to turn potential into something real.
The run-up was shortened and his feet placement was made more precise to establish an optimum speed of approach. While he may now resemble a car spluttering on its final fumes of petrol, the benefits are there for all to see.
His back issues were rectified by a gym programme rich in daily core work. "I just got strong," Jordan said, in that Barbadian twang which makes everything sound effortless, when asked about how he maintained an extended period free from injury last season. Any excess strain on the left side of his lower back was removed by a taller presence at the crease, while a neat trick to lock his wrist into position, which involves placing his right thumb over just one half of the seam, has ensured a cleaner presentation and greater oomph.
On the other hand, Stokes presents something of a conundrum with bat and ball. Coming in at first drop in Sydney was a good show of intent from England, despite Giles ruling out such a move a few days earlier, but Stokes struggled to get going before falling to a blinding catch by Michael Clarke. His best position is certainly down the order, as his domestic success as "finisher" for Durham suggests. At the very least he should be pushed ahead of Ravi Bopara, who has scored only 35 runs off 34 deliveries in the second Powerplay (the most faced by any England batsman).
But Stokes' work with the ball has been disappointing, with an economy rate of 7.00. Defending 243 at the SCG, Cook used Stokes as his sixth option, asking for only three overs from him. Stokes was impatient, varying his length unnecessarily and went on to concede 23 runs. His inability to nail his yorkers at the Gabba played into the hands of James Faulkner, who hit Stokes for five maximums in the bowler's last three overs, which cost a game-changing 37.
In truth, Stokes has been frustrated by his limited-overs bowling for the last 12 months. At Durham, it was his responsibility to bowl in the Powerplays and return at the business end to finish the innings off. His practice is always thorough and methodical, consisting of yorkers, slower balls and other variations, but his inability to replicate these skills effectively in a match irked him. "It's mediocre, at best," was his own frank assessment of his form in last year's YB40 and FLt20 competitions.
Then there is Rankin, the man sacrificed for Stuart Broad's despondent return at the SCG. It was on ODI form that Rankin earned his spot in the Ashes touring party, yet four matches of carrying drinks and a grossly disappointing Test debut have seemingly robbed him of the malice he showed back home.
In the second ODI, he was unable to complete his allotted overs after pulling his hamstring, casting further doubts about his fitness at this level. The international schedule is unrelenting and it seems to have already proved too much for Rankin. His fielding, for sure, is far from international class.
It's clear that Giles thinks highly of Rankin, who he coached at Warwickshire, but it is already clear that Rankin will need a good deal more work and continued management to coax further quality from him. Time is running out for Rankin to show England that he's worth the hassle, and the worry for him is that he may not be afforded further opportunities to do so.