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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

England's Ashes 2017/18 campaign in Australia not all doom and gloom

Tourists are all but beaten in ongoing series, but batting of Malan, Vince and Stoneman represent silver linings for Root's team

Dawid Malan, left, and Jonny Bairstow have been among the few bright spots for England in Ashes 2017/18. David Gray / Reuters
Dawid Malan, left, and Jonny Bairstow have been among the few bright spots for England in Ashes 2017/18. David Gray / Reuters

At some point on Monday, unless wet weather denies them, Australia will regain the Ashes by winning the third Test in Perth.

Play ended early on Sunday thanks to showers with England teetering on 132-4 in their second innings, still needing 127 runs just to make Australia bat again.

Even if the rain that is forecast for the morning in Perth sticks around long enough to give England an escape, it is delaying the inevitable with two Tests still to go in the series in Melbourne and Sydney.

Even if England do go to Melbourne still 2-0 down, it is hard to picture a scenario in which Joe Root's men could get the victories they needed there and in Sydney to draw the series and hold on to the Ashes until the next series on home turf in 2019.

You have to go back five years to December 2012 in India for the last time that England won back-to-back Test matches on foreign soil, so you get the picture of the kind of tall order it still would be for England even if they are spared defeat in Perth.

Perth has had a similar narrative to the first two Tests in that England at various stages have been in a good position. They have subsequently failed to capitalise on it, partly through their own failings and equally through some fine cricket from Australia, and have ended up losing both matches.

In the first innings in Perth at 368-4, thanks to hundreds from Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, England should have been in a position where they could have put Australia under real scoreboard pressure.

Instead they capitulated to 403 all out, at least 100 runs below par, and ensured that if Australia batted well and scored quickly, which they did, they would put Root's side on the backfoot.

This scenario played out and even though England had some hope when Australia were 55-2, they could not capitalise on that as an excellent 239 from home captain Steve Smith, backed up by 181 from Mitchell Marsh, took the game away.

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Read more

Graham Caygill: Ashes 2017/18 proving to be career-defining series for Steve Smith

Day 2 report: Australia response after Bairstow century leaves Test well-balanced

Alex Hales: T10 League star optimistic about England's chances of Ashes fightback

Take that Matty Hayden: James Vince determined 'to make a statement' in Australia

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There had been fears about the strength of England's batting and bowling before the series and those have largely been proven, though not in the ways expected.

England were seen as taking risks in picking James Vince at No 3 and sticking with Malan at No 5, given the unremarkable efforts in Test cricket previously of both men.

But the duo, along with opener Mark Stoneman have done OK.

Yes, none of them have had a career-defining series, but it has actually been the form of Root and experienced opener Alastair Cook that has been the real disappointment in the line-up with the bat.

Malan hit his first Test hundred in the first innings in Perth, and has shown good fight second time around, his unbeaten 28 off 62 balls preventing a possible collapse and the game ending on Sunday.

Both Stoneman and Vince have two half-centuries to their name and while there is still issues with shot selection and judgement, particularly with Vince, they have not disgraced themselves.

Vince's 55 on Sunday was a welcome riposte to two days of misery in the field for England as Smith and Mitchell racked up the runs.

He struck 12 boundaries and counter-attacked well. Yes, it was likely in a losing cause but you often learn most about a player's temperament in times of despair.

Vince played each ball on merit and it took an excellent ball from Mitchell Starc to remove him.

Watch Vince dismissal

England should not kid themselves overall. They have been well beaten by Australia and their bowlers have struggled in conditions that have highlighted their limitations when the ball is not swinging.

But the efforts of Stoneman, Vince and Malan do give the seeds of optimism that it does not all have to be doom and gloom when England return home with.

Root has had a tough series with the bat, and only he can say if the captaincy is hurting his form, with an average of just 29.33.

Cook looks like a man low on confidence as only once in six innings has he passed 20 as he averages 13.83, and Sunday's cheap dismissal to a caught and bowled by Josh Hazlewood only heightens the speculation this may be his last series.

But England do have the nucleus of a potentially good batting order and Stoneman, Vince and Malan should all have a chance again in the summer series against Pakistan and India on home turf.