12 Dec 2013

Welcome to the Waca – where the worst is still to come

England had their chance to play their way back into the Ashes. Now as they head to Perth 2-0 down in the series, expect things to get a whole lot worse, writes Kunal Dutta.

England captain Alastair Cook walks into the Waca stadium for a net session (Getty)

First, a metaphorical reality check.

England are no longer an Ashes side drinking in the last chance saloon. Instead they are staggering punch drunk; armour strewn all over the battlefield, plans in tatters and heading into the bloody denouement of an unrelenting test series.

Crushed in two tests, with team selection in disarray, senior batsman that have forgotten how to play pace and a side shot of enough luck to win a toss, test or even a session, there is no flinching from the facts. England is losing its grasp on the Ashes. Unfortunately the worst is still to come.

The reason? Perth. Or more precisely, the Waca ground, where play begins at 2.30am on Friday morning. The Western Australian wicket is one of the hardest and bounciest on earth. Even players from Eastern Australian states struggle to adapt their game accordingly.

Toxic mix

But why such a struggle? Quite simply Perth is an anomaly.

The Waca offers a potent mix of trampoline-style bounce (even off a good length); occasional pace; long boundaries; a tricky mid-afternoon sea breeze (known as the Fremantle Doctor) not to mention a perpetual onslaught of flies that have been known to get into players’ eyes and mouths– even sometimes halting play.

Coach Andy Flower has promised to make changes going into this game, but history suggests that is unlikely to yield rewards. England’s record at the Waca is dire. The team have lost their last six tests and won only one of the 12 Ashes matches ever played there since 1970.

England is currently a team in the midst of a batting crisis – in their last 10 test matches, they have failed to reach 400 in the first innings – a fact many see as responsible for their dramatic drop in form.

But the record in Perth is unlikely to help that: half of their last 10 totals in Perth have been below 200.

The bowling statistics are even less encouraging.

England has only twice bowled Australia out in both innings at the Waca. More often over the years, their bowlers have pitched too short and got hammered.

England's Waca record

Played 11, won 1, lost 7, drawn 3.

Average runs per wicket at the Waca in Tests between the two countries: England 27, Australia 37.

The highest innings for England at the Waca is 162 by Chris Broad in 1986-7. Fewer than a third of Tests at the Waca have been won by the team winning the toss.

So is there any hope? To be frank: the Waca is not the setting for fairy tales. All they can do is follow Channel 4 News’ five-point plan (NB we cannot stress the importance of winning the toss).

Uphill struggle

Use bowlers strategically and try and rise to the occasion.

For batsmen, the art of leaving the ball is essential. Facing Mitchell Johnson, who has been urged to bowl even faster England can only be advised not to get lured into playing shots unnecessarily.

Any delivery fractionally short of a good length from a pace bowler should go over the top of the stumps. And if you do decide to play the ball, heed the advice of Alec Stewart. The former England captain, who grew up in Perth grade cricket, once said that strokes at the Waca had to either be vertical or horizontal, but nothing in between.

In all likelihood though, this is a desperately uphill struggle and an unenviable task for any team. England had their chance to play their way back into the series at Adelaide earlier this week. That went begging. Now they simply have to hope for miracle.

The irony, of course, is this. Should England somehow defy every odd to pull off the unlikeliest of wins, it will go down as the finest of an era that many now concede is fading, ever further, into history.

Play starts at 2.30am on Friday.