Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Fracas at the WACA

OK, I admit it, I've always wanted to use that headline, ever since it appeared in one of the Australian papers back in the early 80s after Dennis Lillee's arse-kicking/bat-swinging contest with Javed Miandad (as a Glamorgan supporter, my sympathies were with the little Pakistani, who in those days pretty much carried the county single-handed).

Anyway, the early hours of tomorrow morning see England and Australia resume battle at the WACA in Perth, and the first day could well decide the destination of the Ashes. The momentum of the series is so heavily in England's favour at the moment that a good start here might be enough to cause a fragile Aussie side to fly apart at the seams. On the other hand, should England bat first and collapse, as they have many times in the past at this ground, Australia have the potential to get right back into this series.

That's because these sides are nowhere near as far apart as they've looked at times. I'm not taking anything away from England, who have been excellent, or ignoring the dreadful form many of the Aussies have shown (the bowling at Adelaide was embarrassingly bad at times). I just think that a decent injection of confidence into the home side would soon have most of their strugglers looking what they really are - Test cricketers. There are exceptions. I can't see the selection of Beer as anything other than a panic measure (Nathan Hauritz would have been doing a good job as a stock bowler), and even if Mitchell Johnson gets it right here, he's just as likely to lose form again by next time out, because the basic flaws in his action haven't been addressed.

I think both captains wouldn't mind losing the toss too much. Perth's no longer the fast bowlers' paradise it used to be, when the pitch behaved like crazy paving on top of industrial strength trampolines, but it's likely to offer a bit to the seamers early on. England might fancy testing a nervous and rather thin looking Aussie batting line-up on it, while Ricky Ponting might feel his best chance is to go with four seamers and get into England early on. Neither captain, though, is the type to gamble*, so I think both would settle for ending up bowling as the result of the other's decision.

England do have a poor record at Perth, but then they have a poor record at most Aussie grounds in recent years, on account of having played against some great Aussie sides, so I'm not sure that's of much relevance. I back them to win fairly narrowly here, thanks to in-form batsmen and the trump card that is Graeme Swann, but it's going to be a sleepless few days.

* Let's face it, Ponting probably still wakes up in a cold sweat at the memory of putting England in at Edgbaston in 2005 and watching them rack up 400 on the first day.

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