Melbourne — England’s hopes of clawing their way back into an Ashes series fast slipping from their grip will be put to the ultimate test at the Waca in Perth, where the tourists have won only once in nearly 50 years.
The Waca bore witness to England’s meek surrender of the 2013-14 series, and at 2-0 down after Brisbane and Adelaide, Joe Root’s men face a similar predicament when the third Test starts on Thursday.
With its traditionally quick and bouncy wicket playing to the strengths of home pacemen, the Waca has been a house of pain for English cricket, and Australians will be hoping for more of the same when the ground hosts its final Test. The Waca, described as ramshackle, frozen in time and a veritable graveyard for visiting teams, is hosting its 44th and final Test match before future games are switched to the new 60,000-capacity Perth Stadium.
One has to delve deep in the records to find the last time England drew a match. That was in 1986, when Mike Gatting’s unlikely band of hard-partying tourists put on 592 in the first innings to frustrate Allan Border’s team.
The maiden win was in 1978, when Mike Brearley’s side thrashed Australia by 166 runs, a victory that might otherwise have been remembered as a triumph of English cricket but for the fact that the hosts had been gutted by the World Series Cricket rebellion.
Australia have beaten England in their previous seven matches at the Waca and with the hosts’ pacemen licking their lips it may take something truly special from Root’s men just to keep the series alive to the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
Managing that would be a victory of sorts, given England need only to square the five-test series at 2-2 to keep the urn.
Having fought hard but ultimately having crumbled at the Gabba and the Adelaide Oval, England’s chances of success at the Waca have been given short shrift by book makers.
Their week has included off-field problems, with coach Trevor Bayliss left fuming after English Lions batsman Ben Duckett poured a drink over the head of James Anderson in a Perth bar.
And yet a small increase in application by the tourists could ensure a contest at the Waca. England have paid dearly for a few dreadful sessions and the scoreline has, to an extent, flattered Steve Smith’s Australia.
The vulnerability of the home side’s batting was on full display in the second innings at Adelaide Oval as they crashed out for 133 to raise England’s hopes of an unlikely victory.
Several of Australia’s batsmen are under pressure, most notably No5 Peter Handscomb, whose place could be taken by Mitchell Marsh, an all-rounder with a poor batting record at Test level.
Anderson and the England seamers, meanwhile, will have received a boost of confidence from Adelaide, where all-rounder Craig Overton provided much better support than Jake Ball at the Gabba.
More will be needed from the English batsmen, though, given none has managed a century this series.
Root and his most senior batsman, Alastair Cook, have been particularly culpable for failing to set the benchmark by converting promising starts into sorely needed big scores.
They were both present for England’s previous capitulation at the Waca and will be desperate to make a contribution to avoiding another.