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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

England bid to hold on to Ashes urn at Perth looks grim after Adelaide defeat

It is hard to be optimistic about tourists' chances in third Test at Waca where conditions will favour hosts, with latter having outplayed arch rivals in all departments

England Joe Root, left, will have plenty to think about ahead of the Perth Test. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
England Joe Root, left, will have plenty to think about ahead of the Perth Test. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

If there was a moment that summed up England’s performance in Adelaide it came late on the second afternoon on Sunday when Shaun Marsh, having already reached his hundred, was caught by surprise by a ball from Chris Woakes that got high on him.

The ball looped towards the slip cordon but both Alastair Cook and James Vince went for the catch.

Cook had the ball in his hands but Stoneman collided with him and the chance went begging as the ball rolled away.

It was sloppy, embarrassing and highlighted that this series is in danger of capitulating into another whitewash for Australia.

The defeat in Adelaide by 120 runs leaves Joe Root’s side 2-0 down in the five-match series, and given the third Test in Perth at the Western Australia Cricket Association (Waca) Ground, which starts on December 14, is far from a happy hunting ground for the English, it looks like a case of when, and not if, Australia regain the Ashes.

The fact England had gone into Wednesday’s final day with hope of victory was largely down to a misjudgement by Steve Smith, the Australia captain, more than anything else.

England were 215 behind after their first innings had ended in the day-night Test, and Smith had the option of enforcing the follow-on.

But he chose to bat again, normally the safe option in these circumstances as it gives the bowlers a rest and allows the team’s batsmen to post a score that eliminates any chance of defeat.

But what Smith had not reckoned with was the conditions. It was night time when England bowled second time around and suddenly they bowled at a good length and with accuracy and hostility barely seen in the first innings.

Australia were all out for 138 and 354 as a target was possible, given the amount of time left in the match.

But England were unable to capitalise. An initial stand of 53 for the opening wicket between Cook and Stoneman, as well as Root’s 67, gave Australia a scare.

But ultimately their bowling attack once again was too good for England.

Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon have been consistently in a different league to England’s attack.

They have been faster, more accurate, and have offered greater control to Smith then Root has been able to enjoy.

When they have met resistance they have piled the pressure up by limiting scoring options.

Pressure produces mistakes, and the sheer number of England batsmen walking back off the field after poor shot selection has been too regular to be a coincidence.

Like in Brisbane, England had moments of being in potentially good positions in Adelaide.

They had Australia 161-4 in the first innings, but allowed them to escape to 442-8, especially demoralising after Root had made the ambitious call to field after winning the toss.

England’s batting in both innings was not good enough and the fact that Root was the only man to pass fifty in either innings confirms that.

You cannot expect to win Test matches, or many of them at least, when you are scoring 227 and 233.

Australia are better than England in every department right now and it shows.

Chris Woakes took advantage of the night conditions to drag England back into the game. Mark Kolbe / Getty Images
Chris Woakes took advantage of the night conditions to drag England back into the game. Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

Smith’s poor reading of conditions allowed the result to be closer then it looked, but apart from a brief fine display of swing bowling, led by James Anderson, England were outplayed.

It is hard to see where England go from here. This is their best side available to them, with the legal process over Ben Stokes still going on, and it is made up of an unit that does not score enough runs or take 20 wickets cheaply enough.

Adelaide, with the day-night conditions, had been seen as England’s best chance of winning a Test in Australia.

But the problem with putting a particular game on a pedestal is that if you do not win the consequences can be doubly devastating.

England could not beat Australia in conditions most suited to them and now have to go to the Waca, a ground tailor-made for Australia with its fast wicket, knowing they must not lose if they are to have any hope of hanging on to the urn.

Hard to be optimistic about that scenario playing out given what we have seen so far.

England have lost their last seven matches at the Waca, all in fairly hefty fashion, and it will be a big surprise if it is not eight on the trot next week and Smith and his men celebrating regaining the Ashes.

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