Its batting has been streets behind Australia’s and it has been terrorised by Mitchell Johnson this summer, but England has snubbed an opportunity to iron out its problems ahead of Friday’s fifth Test.
While Australian captain Michael Clarke and most of his top six had a hit-out in the SCG nets on Wednesday, their opponents’ pre-match practice was restricted to a fielding session on the ground.
Down 4-0 in the Ashes series, and having been blown away by Australia again in Melbourne due to another poor batting performance, England has not picked up a bat since. ”I don’t think they’re in a great place to be perfectly honest,” said Australian vice-captain Brad Haddin.
”I think you can probably tell a bit of that in their fielding the other day. I think that’s the first thing to go when you’re struggling a bit. All the team stuff, all the one-percenters, they’re the first things to go.
”The batting and bowling is an individual thing, but I think the team stuff looked like it was breaking a bit the other day.”
England’s fielding reached a new low with captain Alastair Cook as guilty as anyone. He dropped a at first slip on the fourth and final day of the Boxing Day Test on the weekend. It followed another chance that Cook dropped after wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow failed to move.
Yet it is England’s failures with the bat that have been most damaging, clearing the way for Australia to dramatically turn around a
10-month period in which it had not won a Test. Only twice in eight innings has England managed to pass 300 in total and Australia boasts the top five run-scorers in the series, with Kevin Pietersen scraping into sixth place with 285 runs at an average of 35.62.
Australia’s eight hundreds for this Ashes campaign are matched by only one from England – an admirable maiden century by all-rounder Ben Stokes in Perth.
And the tourists’ shortcomings have not only been in the ranks of their specialist batsmen. While Australia’s lower order has produced important partnerships and got it out of trouble on several occasions, there has been little or no resistance to the onslaught led by Johnson on the England tail.
It lost 5-6 to be rolled for 179 in its second innings at the MCG, squandering its best chance of a win in this series.
But Haddin was reluctant to criticise Cook and the England leadership on Wednesday. ”It’s not my place to judge how Alastair runs his team. We have to make sure our own backyard is in order,” he said. ”I’m not concerned about moves he makes … it’s hard enough making sure we’re up for every game.”
Asked why England did not bat, its emerging leg-spinner Scott Borthwick said: ”No reason whatsoever. We just had a nice run around, a bit of catching and worked on our skills.”
The 23-year-from Durham was a mid-tour addition to the squad after the shock retirement of Graeme Swann before the fourth Test and is tipped to make his debut in Sydney. He disputed the perception that England is in disarray.
”The lads are sticking together,” Borthwick said. ”Like I say, we had a great fielding session and our energy was fantastic. We were running around taking great catches and everyone was patting each other on the back. The spirit is brilliant. We’re trying our best to get a good win in Sydney.”
As for Australia, Ryan Harris (knee) and Shane Watson (groin) did not train on Wednesday – Harris and fellow fast bowlers Johnson and Peter Siddle had a pool session instead – but there was optimism that they would be fit for Friday. If they are cleared, the other possible change to the XI is a recall for all-rounder James Faulkner in place of George Bailey.
”We would love to have the same group go out that we did at the start of the tour and if they are right to go, they deserve to come out in this fifth Test,” Haddin said.
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