Friday 15 December 2017

Heads on the block for England as Aussies line up Ashes whitewash

Australia's Chris Rogers hits his 100th run during day four of the Fourth Test
Australia's Chris Rogers hits his 100th run during day four of the Fourth Test

Derek Pringle

England lost their fourth Test of the Ashes series and their fourth by a demoralising margin, this time by eight wickets at the MCG after Chris Rogers scored his second Test hundred.

Suddenly, from their 3-0 win in the summer, a buffer that was meant to comfort them from the harsher realities of Ashes cricket in Australia, they have been plunged into the regime-changing chaos of a potential whitewash in Sydney, something that looks almost certain following this dispiriting defeat.

Paul Downton, the incoming managing director of England cricket, will be in Sydney to see his new charges attempt to stave off complete humiliation.

Captain Alastair Cook need not consider his position unless others at the England and Wales Cricket Board decide differently, as he is relatively new to the job and still learning its trials and tribulations.

But some of the team management will surely do so, even if Australia fail to win in Sydney. No change is not an option following such an emphatic series defeat.

Cook is the only plausible candidate in the current squad though his personality and style of captaincy rely upon him leading by example rather than inspiring with Churchillian rhetoric. That means scoring big runs, something he has not done here, and it has exposed him as a leader.


Yet, he appears to have inspired loyalty in Kevin Pietersen, England's most awkward player, who has tried to knuckle down for his captain, despite it being alien to him. Cook won that loyalty by paving the way for Pietersen's return to the team after his brief exile for sending texts about Andrew Strauss to South Africa's cricketers. But others have not looked as beholden to him and most have failed to be inspired.

From the moment England landed in Perth, this tour has been a litany of failings. From the selection of three giant fast bowlers, who have become little more than excess baggage, to the unexpected departure of two senior players during the series, one to a stress-related illness, the other to a sobering decline in form, their defence of the urn has unravelled with alarming ease and speed.

Jonathan Trott deserves sympathy yet Andy Flower admitted England's selectors had been aware of his condition for a while. They would not pick an injured bowler to deliver 30 overs in 100F temperatures so why a batsman with such problems for a tour which tends to probe character like no other?

Despite the Ashes being lost after only three Tests there was an opportunity for belated redress through wins in Melbourne and in Sydney. Yet, given England had led for most of the match, unlike the other defeats, this one was the most dispiriting. For the best part of three days they were ahead until their batting collapse late on Saturday, when they lost five wickets for six runs to concede their pole position.

On a pitch offering as little as the atmospheric conditions, it was a feeble folding of their collective will. Mitchell Johnson has bowled fast and aggressively all series, but, like Pavlov's dog, Michael Clarke need only whistle in his direction for England's middle and late order to start panicking.

It happened in Brisbane and again on Saturday afternoon when, with Johnson hurtling in from one end, five succumbed to the non-turning off-spin of Nathan Lyon at the other.

Still, Australia needing 231 on a fourth-day pitch was not a done deal, even if the manner of England's setting of the target would have instilled confidence into a nervous teenager.

To have a chance, they needed to take a few quick wickets in the morning session and then get the ball moving sideways, as they had done with reverse-swing in Australia's first innings, but neither occurred despite David Warner being caught behind cutting off Ben Stokes for 25.

Instead, Rogers, who knows this ground well from his time with Victoria, and Shane Watson added 136 for the second wicket to break the back of the chase.

At 2.27pm, Watson saw the job through when he hit Monty Panesar for two to finish unbeaten on 83. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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