PERTH, (Reuters) – Having sent Australia crashing to the canvas in Adelaide, England will hope to land a knockout blow to their punch-drunk former tormentors when the third Ashes test gets underway in Perth today.
Victory at the WACA ground would see Andrew Strauss’s team bring the Ashes home for the first time since the Mike Gatting-led triumph in 1986/87, while condemning Ricky Ponting to becoming the first Australian captain in 120 years to lose three Ashes series.
Ponting said England outbatted, outbowled and outfielded the hosts in the second test in Adelaide, but the tourists, 1-0 up, will need to defy recent history to stop the hosts squaring the series.
England have lost their last five tests to Australia at the WACA and, like most teams, have struggled to adapt to the ground’s traditionally quick pitches.
Their last win at the WACA came in 1978, when the Mike Brearley-led side defeated an Australian team gutted by World Series Cricket.
“If Australia were wounded in Adelaide and have a point to prove they’re going to be that much harder to beat and we’ve got to counter that,” Strauss told reporters yesterday.
“Australia’s record here is very good, so that suggests that they’re better at adapting to these conditions than other teams. “I think that’s a great opportunity to show that we’re a better side than we used to be. We’ve got to be just as desperate as Australia because if we’re not we’ll come unstuck.”
England’s innings and 71-run victory in the second test helped erase some demons from their disastrous tour in 2006/07 when they were whitewashed 5-0, but more bitter memories linger at Perth where the Australians handed out a 206-run thrashing to wrest back the Ashes before Christmas.
The ruthless attack led by paceman Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne is long gone, however, and calls by local pundits in recent days to coax the 41-year-old legspinner Warne out of retirement to “save” the Ashes have only magnified Australia’s bereft bowling stocks.
Underlining the home side’s desperation, selectors are likely to slot Mitchell Johnson straight back into the side after he was dropped following his wayward performance in the first test in Brisbane where he conceded 170 runs without taking a wicket.
The 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year has spent two weeks toiling in the nets following Brisbane but has already been cast as a potential saviour at the WACA where he took his best haul of 8-61 against South Africa in late 2008.
The selectors also raised eyebrows by naming Michael Beer in their 12-man squad, a left-arm orthodox spinner with only five first class matches under his belt, as a potential replacement for the dropped Xavier Doherty.
Phillip Hughes, who was bullied out of the Australian side by England’s seamers on tour last year, has replaced the injured Simon Katich as opening batsman, while all rounder Steven Smith has replaced Marcus North at number six. Ponting, battling growing speculation that his days as captain are numbered, dismissed the notion that Australia’s younger lineup would struggle against England’s more settled side.
“It’s not so much that we’re picking young guys to come in, we’re picking our best players,” Ponting said.
“The selectors feel Steve Smith is our next best No.6 batsman and Phil Hughes is our next best opener so that’s why we’ve made those decisions.”
While Australia’s selection policy has resembled a revolving door, England are expected to make only one forced change to their side to replace the injured Stuart Broad.
The 2.01m tall paceman Chris Tremlett is favoured to replace Broad to exploit bounce on a grassy wicket that could also provide some turn for Graeme Swann as it wears.
Despite an abridged preparation after flying home for the birth of his daughter, James Anderson will lead the attack with support from fellow quick Steve Finn.
Hot dry conditions are forecast throughout the Perth test, where the “Fremantle doctor”, an afternoon sea-breeze that lands around the tea-break like clockwork, tends to add another interesting dimension.
The pitch’s grassy conditions have seen both sides delay naming their final 11 until just before the test starts. Ponting, who will turn 36 on day four of the test, should it last that long, said the track could ultimately seal the hosts’ Ashes fate and perhaps also that of his captaincy.
“Looking at this wicket you’d think that there’s going to be a (winning) result in this game, so obviously that has to be a positive one for us or it’s game set and match,” he said.
England – A. Strauss, A. Cook, J. Trott, K. Pietersen, P. Collingwood, I. Bell, M. Prior, G. Swann, J. Anderson, S. Finn, C. Tremlett.
Australia – Shane Watson, P. Hughes, R. Ponting, M. Clarke, M. Hussey, S. Smith, B. Haddin, R. Harris, B. Hilfenhaus, M. Johnson, P. Siddle.