Despite making four changes after a second comprehensive defeat at Adelaide, England has produced more of the same mediocrity in the third Test in Melbourne.
The lack of spine shown by England overall has been the worst part. The bowlers have bowled too short and too loose and have only produced brief patches where they have been able to bother the Australian batsmen.
England’s batsmen have been dismal. Root and Malan have been the only two showing any fight, although the latter’s second innings duck in Melbourne suggests the pressure of carrying the rest of the lineup may be starting to show.
Having been bowled out for only 184 in their first innings, many expected England to be ground into submission by a big score in response by the Australians, but this didn’t eventuate. Behind some sharp spells by Jimmy Anderson the Poms finally gave their opponent some trouble and Australia scratched their way to a first innings lead of just 82.
This was their moment; the first time in the series where they had a chance to strike back at Australia. They had been smashed in the first two Tests and with the best-of-five series on the line, England had a chance to breathe life back into the contest and put themselves in a winning position.
Instead, they stayed true to form and capitulated to 4-31 by stumps, allowing Australia to tighten their grip on the urn.
The match is far from over and anything could happen, but the likelihood that it will swing back in England’s favour is slim.
Root is still at the crease, by far their most dependable batsman so far this series. Ben Stokes is with him, but he has struggled to find form in this series and has batted unusually negatively. Any repeat of his past heroics seems unlikely since Australia now has competent tactical leadership on the field now Tim Paine is history, whose inability to counter Stokes’ scoring cost Australia an outright series win.
With Bairstow and Buttler to come there is still some batting talent in the sheds, but this Melbourne pitch has proved difficult to score on over the first two days and England have struggled to score for the whole series. A few quick wickets in the first session of day three and the series will be over well before stumps.
Now, this may not eventuate, but it’s hard to see England suddenly become competitive. They’ve been feeble and negative the whole series. The only time they’ve have a game plan that was semi-successful was in Adelaide when they tried to bat slow to save the game for a draw.
That’s the only time England had found any success – not playing to win and not playing to score.
When they’ve tried anything else, they’ve failed.
Bear in mind, this is all happening against an Australian side that is hardly the powerhouse it used to be. The bowling stocks are admittedly strong but the batting lineup still has a few weaknesses and has a recent reputation for collapse. This current Australian side pales in comparison to the super teams of the 90’s and 00’s.
Despite this, a 3-0 series lead seems inevitable. It appears that whatever plans England had for Australia prior to this series have failed and there obviously was no Plan B. Their batsman have failed to find even a single Australian bowler to dominate and their tactics in the field have been negative and desperate.
Despite all the talk surrounding the importance of an Ashes series, England have not shown any gritty determination to reclaim the urn. So far they have surrendered meekly.
It’s been a pathetic effort across the board and there’s nothing to suggest it will change any time soon.
EDIT 28/12: Just when you think they can’t get any worse, they surrender the series without even making Australia bat twice. Disgraceful.