England face last Ashes stand at WACA graveyard
PERTH – England, battered from their latest off-field booze-related scandal, will try to cling on to the Ashes urn at a venue where they haven’t won since 1978 in Thursday’s third Test.
England’s chaotic tour reaches the point of no return as Australia, 2-0 up in the five-match series, look for an Ashes-clinching victory in the last ever Test to be played at the WACA Ground in Perth.
Joe Root’s tourists were rocked last weekend by a third alcohol-related incident in as many months after England Lions batsman Ben Duckett was suspended from a two-day tour match for pouring a drink on the head of senior player James Anderson following a heated argument.
The Duckett incident follows Ben Stokes’ involvement in a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub in September and Jonny Bairstow’s headbutt greeting for Australia Test opener Cameron Bancroft in Perth in late October.
“As professionals — with the young kids watching and hearing all the news — it’s very important we are on our best behaviour,” England’s teetotal spinner Moeen Ali said. “Off-field behaviour needs to improve and we all know that.”
It is against this backdrop that England must somehow prevent Australia from sweeping to another victory amid predictions of a 5-0 series whitewash.
The tourists could not find a more inhospitable setting for their must-not-lose encounter with Steve Smith’s flying Australians after heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide. England have not won at the WACA for 39 years and have lost their last seven Tests in Perth, all by hefty margins.
It is little wonder England teams do not relish playing in the unrelenting heat of the baking venue, which is being used for the last time before future games are switched to the new Perth Stadium.
Australia fast-bowling great Glenn McGrath said England have two areas they desperately need to sort out for the WACA showdown to avoid further humiliation. “Firstly, whether they have the firepower to take 20 wickets on good decks, and then whether their top order can score enough runs to put Australia under pressure,” McGrath said.
England have to decide whether to call up Mark Wood to inject some much-needed pace into the bowling attack, although coach Trevor Bayliss has indicated he was happy with the four pacemen who played in Adelaide.
“I thought the four pace bowlers we had in the last match went pretty well,” said Bayliss, referring to veterans Anderson and Stuart Broad, all-rounder Chris Woakes and debutant Craig Overton. “As I said after the last Test our batters have all showed they can all actually play at this level but we’ve just got to do it for longer. Making 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s at this level is not good enough.”
AUSTRALIA: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (capt), Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
ENGLAND: Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Joe Root (capt), Dawid Malan, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.