Ashes 2017/18: England undone by Australian pace and force
It was a horror tour for England in 2013/14 when they were blanked 0-5 in Australia. Going by the current trend in the ongoing Ashes series, it could very well become an encore.
After losing the first two Tests, England had to either win or draw the third Test at WACA in Perth to keep their hopes of regaining the Ashes urn alive. At the end of the first day, England were in a position of strength after making use of ripe batting conditions.
Fast forward to the final day, the visitors were hoping for rain to escape from a huge loss. As it turned out, Australia got enough time to pick the remaining wickets and subsequently seal an innings victory to reclaim the Ashes.
The current scoreline of 0-3 begs a question - are England playing poor cricket or have Australia been too strong for them? Joe Root’s team have been undone by a couple of crucial factors.
England's lack of pace
The difference in the two bowling attacks was very visible in all the three Test matches. While England have a sense of sameness to their bowling unit, Australia possess plenty of variety in their pace arsenal.
On pitches that are not seaming and swinging, England's fast bowlers have been found wanting because of their lack of pace. Even the experienced duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad could not penetrate the Australian batting line up.
England have played four seamers in the three Tests so far. More or less, all have bowled at same speeds and relied on the new ball to do some damage. Once the ball became slightly old, all of them lacked the air speed to threaten the Australian batsmen on placid tracks.
On the contrary, Australia's fast bowlers operated adeptly as a group and used the short ball brilliantly in order to prevent the visitors' lower-order to wag. After winning a crucial toss at Perth, England were well on course for a huge first innings score when Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow were involved in a terrific partnership.
Once Lyon provided the breakthrough by dismissing Malan, the Australian speedsters cleaned up the lower-order in a hurry to dent England's hopes of controlling the match.
Smith in unstoppable form
Australian captain Steven Smith has made his opposite number and their bowlers go through numerous plans. Yet, none of those have worked and England appear listless against the unorthodox right-hander.
Interestingly, Smith played a lot of cover drives during his double hundred at Perth. It was one of the ploys by England to cut down on his favourite strokes through the leg-side. But the top ranked Test batsman was up to the task and kept peppering the cover boundary on a regular basis.
One more key aspect of Smith’s batting has been his versatility. Out of the two hundreds in this series, he has scored the slowest as well as fastest of his Test career thus far. The conditions at Gabba required him to be patient while the fast paced nature of WACA remained ideal for stroke-play. Right from ball one, the Australian captain decided to stamp his authority and gave an impression that he was in for the long haul.
If England are to avoid another embarrassment of a 0-5 whitewash, they will have to combat their lack of pace as well as find a new way to unsettle Smith in the last two matches at Melbourne and Sydney.