Australia out to avoid worst Ashes loss in England
LONDON (AP) — Having started the Ashes series trying to produce an upset, Australia’s cricketers will end it trying to avoid gaining a place in the record books for the wrong reasons.
Another collapse at The Oval in the fifth and final test, which starts Wednesday, would leave the tourists as the first Australia side to lose four matches in a series in England.
A 4-0 margin would equal the Ashes campaign in 1978-79 as its worst. That team, captained by Graham Yallop and neutered by defections to Kerry Packer’s World Series, was beaten 5-1 on home soil.
And, according to Australia vice captain Brad Haddin, a 3-0 deficit is a fair reflection of the team’s performance going into the final test.
“We just haven’t been good enough in the big moments,” Haddin said. “England deserve to be where they are, 3-0 up. So it’s up to us to see if we can build a little bit on the good things we’ve done and put it all together over five days and not just in patches.”
Although outclassed in the second test at Lord’s, Australia has otherwise been fairly competitive throughout the series.
The tourists came close to a thrilling win in the first test at Trent Bridge when their last-wicket pairing fell 15 runs short, and they also enjoyed the better of the rain-affected third test at Old Trafford that was drawn.
But their failings were epitomized by the fourth test at Chester-Le-Street, where they were on top for most of the match only to collapse in the final hour to a 74-run defeat.
Careers are at stake now, according to coach Darren Lehmann. And a glance at the statistics shows why.
Of the batsmen, only captain Michael Clarke (49.52), Chris Rogers (43) and David Warner (30) have averaged above 30.
After averaging just 19, Usman Khawaja’s position in the top order was the most vulnerable, and he has been dropped to enable allrounder James Faulkner to make his test debut.
The only other change is Mitchell Starc, whose eight wickets in the series have come at an average of 27, being recalled in place of seam bowler Jackson Bird.
Without singling out either Khawaja or Bird for criticism, Clarke said Tuesday that performance levels had prompted the selectors to act.
“You have to perform as a player _ if you don’t there’s always a chance that you can be dropped,” Clarke said. “That’s the life we live playing sport at the top level.”
The bowling has been more respectable than the batting in England — especially Ryan Harris, whose 20 wickets at 19.25 is the best average of any specialist bowler in the series.
Lehmann, though, must envy England’s strength in depth.
With the focus already on the return series in Australia later this year, England may decide to rest James Anderson following his reduced impact since his match-winning performance in the first test.
Injuries to Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan mean recalls to the squad for Steven Finn, who was dropped after a disappointing first test, and Chris Tremlett, who hasn’t played for England in 19 months due to injuries.
“I’m dying to get an opportunity at some point,” Tremlett said. “England are aware what I can do, but it probably depends on conditions which way they go. I hope I’ll be the guy playing in Tim Bresnan’s spot.”
Bresnan was selected with one eye on his abilities as a lower-order batsman. If England’s selectors opt to replace like with like, allrounder Chris Woakes could make his test debut.
The wild card is spinner Simon Kerrigan, who was surprised by his selection.
“It all felt a bit surreal to be honest,” Kerrigan said. “Hopefully I can impress over the next couple of days and be ready if they choose two spinners.”
That’s unlikely given England’s traditional reluctance to play with more than one slow bowler, but Kerrigan is now the first reserve for Graeme Swann.