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A View from Old Blighty: Can England bounce back in Perth, really?

I have been swapping occasional cricket articles with James Morgan, older brother of Eion Morgan, English ODI specialist, and cousin of Piers Morgan, of no profession, to understand the other point of view. Morgan is a rabid Englishman who still thinks Captain Cook did the locals a favour in opening up the Kimberley for mining. The Prof and I are working on a private members Bill to amend the Constitution, once The Prof enters Parliament in a ‘safe’ cricket seat and is appointed Minster for Sport and technology.

James forwarded this article. It shows the English bull dog preference for dour bloody struggles rather than quick incisive wins. Kartoum, Gallipoli, the Western Front, Singapore, Korea, Afghanistan come to mind. When I showed him, The Prof scoffed at my lack of historical perspective and Morgan’s playful suggestion that Root and Stokes [Ed. Two English surnames that ring of botany and steam engines] were future test stars. “They are on the way down and we, good 17th, are definitely on the way up. OUR hotel on the Dalmatian coast has opened to a full house for the next 6 months!” he said. Enjoy Morgan’s wit. He is one of us.

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I admit it. I’m easily confused. Although I was always good at English at school, I needed extra coaching for my Maths GCSE. Logic and lateral thinking are not my forte. Maybe that’s why I’m totally bemused about England’s recent capitulation down under.

I understand the reasons propagated for our humiliation – the mental fatigue, the technical flaws, the revitalised Australia team – but I’m not sure I can compute them sufficiently.

If you ask me why I think we’re getting hammered today, and ask me the same question tomorrow, you’ll probably get two different answers.

The truth is, I can’t tell you whether England will bounce back at Perth. Logic tells me that we can. But it also tells me that we can’t.

For starters – and let’s not beat around the bush about this – England are a much better side than Australia. The same players have beaten them in three successive Ashes series. What’s more, our batsmen have career averages the likes of Warner, Smith and Bailey can only dream of.

Why, after a slow start, is it so unreasonable to expect our more experienced and talented side to turn things around? We’ve done it before.

Unfortunately however, logic also tells me that we looked deflated and defeated at Adelaide. With Miller and Morris gone, and Flower likely to join them soon, there’s a real ‘end of an era’ feeling about this tour. In such circumstances, can our old soldiers revive themselves for one last hurrah? I doubt it.

The fact this next test is in Perth hardly helps. England’s batsmen don’t usually play well on fast bouncy tracks. The WACA couldn’t be a worse place for them to be.

Did you know that so far this series, thirty-three of the forty England wickets to fall have been caught (usually after limp shots). What’s more, eight of those – that’s one fifth or twenty per cent – have come off attempted pull or hook shots.

That’s right folks, on average we’re losing two batsmen per innings trying to be macho. Only an idiot would expect us to play the short ball better on the quicker WACA pitch.

So which logic do you buy into? Will the better side prevail over a five match series, or will the likes of Root and Pietersen be sitting ducks on a bouncy wicket?

I haven’t got a clue to be honest. If I was a gambling man like Shane Warne, I’d be better off taking my chances at 888poker than betting on the outcome of the third test.

Perhaps, therefore, we should just be philosophical about the result. Maybe it’s actually best if we lose? Australian cricket has been in turmoil in recent times, and a one-off Ashes victory, inspired by a bunch of thirty-somethings who will be past their best in 2015 – Clarke will be 34, Johnson nearly 34, Harris nearly 36, and Haddin nearly 38 – might persuade the ACB that everything in the garden is rosy. Nothing causes inertia at sporting bodies like short-term success. [Ed. Winning a few consecutive tests by bloated record busting margins is as much SUCCESS (did I say SUCCESS?) as one can absorb in eight weeks.]

With the exception of Kevin Pietersen, however, England’s top players are younger and should still be in their prime. Graeme Swann is getting on a bit, but spinners have a longer shelf life. Meanwhile, our younger cricketers look far more promising. It’s hard to imagine Smith, Khawaja and Hughes amounting to anything. Root and Stokes, on the other hand, are oozing with talent.

What I’m trying to say is this: you can’t have a legendary comeback, one that will long live in the memory, unless you go behind first. Perth could be the start of something very, very special.

But if it isn’t, and England get blown away by a left-arm bowler with an action so bad it’s bound to implode sooner or later, so what. We’ll be back. But will Clarke with his dodgy back, Harris with his dodgy body, and Johnson with his dodgy moustache be playing in 2015? I doubt it. [Ed. The Prof has rejected KP’s application to join the Australian Test team pension fund. The letter is in the post.]

James Morgan

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