PERTH - The old urn is the last thing England captain Alastair Cook wants to be exchanging with Michael Clarke when their 100th Tests coincide.
Clarke’s Australians can reclaim the Ashes with another win at the WACA, and they’re favourites to do that on a ground where England has tasted victory just once. Mitchell Johnson has intimidated the England batsmen with his short-pitch bowling, taking 17 wickets in man-of-the-match performances in Australia’s first two wins — and he’s expected to bowl even faster at his favourite venue in world cricket. A local critic has described the WACA pitch as “the deck of death.”
But while all the pre-match hype has been about the bounce and carry the bowlers will get at the WACA, Cook knows it can yield runs for the batsmen. “It’s one of the wickets where, certainly as an Englishman, you have to get used to,” said Cook, who scored a century in his first Ashes Test at the Perth venue in 2006. “The first half an hour or so is quite unique with the bounce. “It can be a fantastic place to bat, but you’ve got to get in to make the most of it.”
No team has come back from 2-0 to win an Ashes series since Australia in the 1930s. And despite the third Test not starting until Friday, an Australian betting agency has already started paying out for clients who backed Australia to win the series. “Our confidence has had a hit from the first two Test matches,” Cook said. “But as a squad we’ve made a conscious effort to look forward into this game, rather than look back at what’s happened. That’s not going to do us any good.”
England was skittled for less than 180 runs in its first three innings before making 312 in the last innings in Adelaide, where they were set 531 to win. Cook said Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen had encouraged the team with a 111-run stand in Adelaide. Besides, he said, “It’s very dangerous to start concentrating on one of their bowlers.”
Australia is expected to stick with the same XI which won the first two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide, with Clarke saying he was confident Ryan Harris would overcome a niggling knee injury while 12th man James Faulkner was ruled out after suffering a broken right thumb in a net session. England will make changes after the experiment with two spinners backfired in Adelaide. Tim Bresnan is expected to get a recall to add some starch to the pace attack and there’s speculation that England may select neither of its spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in Perth.
Until the first Test in Brisbane last year, Cook hadn’t lost a Test in 12 months. Now he says his 100th Test will be the most challenging of his career. “It’s a huge honour for me to be joining the 100 club,” he said. “It is a special day. And it will make it a special week if we can produce a performance we know we’re capable of.” “It’s a nice little milestone to have personally, but the big picture is about trying to get a better performance out of,” England.
Cook said it would be “great sharing” the occasion with the 32-year-old Clarke, who made his Test debut in 2004. “We’ve had a fair few battles along the way,” Cook said. “He’s an exceptional player.” Clarke paid tribute to Cook, too, describing the 28-year-old opener as a “wonderful guy” and saying he deserved a lot of credit for the way he led England. “He’s always been a prize wicket for the Australian cricket team,” Clarke said. “He’s a big wicket for us and hopefully we can limit his scoring.” As for his own milestone, Clarke said he was more concerned with winning the Ashes. “With regards to being your 100th Test, it’s not a focus,” he said. “There’s other reasons why this match is so special to me.”
AUSTRALIA: Michael Clarke (captain), David Warner, Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Coulter-Nile.
ENGLAND: Alastair Cook (captain), Michael Carberry, Joe Root, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Jimmy Anderson, Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar, Steven Finn, Gary Ballance, Boyd Rankin.