England ready for changes but fear more exits
A game of numbers is being played to distract from England's calamitous state. They may be 3-0 down but if the series played at home last summer is taken into account that makes it 3-3 this year, meaning that England can still beat Australia 5-3.
It puts a neat gloss on affairs, but what it cannot disguise is that England are at sixes and sevens. Australia are in absolute raptures about the latest tale of the unexpected to emanate from the opposition camp, the retirement mid-series of the champion off-spinner Graeme Swann.
'The Complete Short Stories of Roald Dahl' were republished recently but nothing in them suggests the old master of the macabre twist might have come up with the litany of surprises which have befallen England on this trip.
Opinion was split on Swann's decision to go before the fourth Test, which begins at the MCG on St Stephen's Day, but whether it was brave or selfish, it has left England with much to ponder.
No one would now be surprised if others dashed for the exit door. Presumably, that will not be before the series is at least finished. After the fifth Test in Sydney in the first week of the new year, stock will need to be taken all round.
Alastair Cook, the captain, denied that he was concerned about other retirees.
"I don't fear it," he said. "No one forces you to play cricket for England. We are very privileged to be in this situation, we know it lasts a short time."
"We have a few guys who have played a lot of cricket but, chatting to them, I would doubt we'll see that (more retirements). But these things can happen very quickly.
"We've had a lot of success with pretty much the same players, but eventually the side changes and it gives young players the chance to come in and make a name for themselves and push this England team forward in a different direction."
The tourists must not only replace Swann for the fourth Test -- Monty Panesar may well have been preferred anyway -- but have other places to consider. There is talk that Matt Prior will be dropped in favour of Jonny Bairstow. Prior's form is so dire that dropping him would be a merciful release. As a batsman, he is desperate to show that his natural game is what will help him to emerge from this slump but there is for the moment no rhyme or reason to his choice of what to attack and how to attack it. As a result of his batting woes, his keeping has now suffered.
The specialist batsmen have let England down grievously on this tour and in truth for several Tests before that. Nor have the bowlers been up to it, regularly letting the Aussies off the hook.
James Anderson has taken 19 for 902 in seven Tests, wickets that have come at a cost of 47.47 runs each every 86 balls. This is not the form of an international bowler, although on occasion Anderson has been desperately unlucky. Australia have sometimes clambered into him in a way that has made it difficult to look. With Stuart Broad likely to be unfit, the options are reduced. Former Ireland star Boyd Rankin is standing by to make his Test debut, though he has done little on this tour to warrant his promotion yet.
Two spinners were called into the squad as Swann's replacement yesterday. Kent off-spinner James Tredwell is flying out and will join the squad during the Melbourne Test. The other call-up is much more exciting. It is Scott Borthwick, the Durham leg spinner, who made immense strides as an upper-order batsman last season.
The summons for the pair at least shows that England are being serious both about spin and planning for the future. But Panesar, will play at the MCG on Thursday. (© Independent News Service)
AUSTRALIA V ENGLAND, LIVE, SKY SPTS 2, TOMORROW, MIDNIGHT