England prepare for Perth challenge

December 12, 2017

England's hopes of retaining the Ashes have been left dangling by a thread after defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, but they can strike a blow by pulling off a surprise result in Perth.

The WACA was not originally scheduled to host the third Test, with a new stadium being built on the other side of the Swan River. However, construction has not been completed in time to get the venue ready, so the historic ground will get one last game.

While the WACA still has the traditional feel in contrast to the modern stadiums that other Australian grounds have been developed into, it is not a happy hunting ground for England. They have lost every Test there since the 1986-87 series and have only won there once, against a weakened Australia team in 1978-79.

All that makes the prospect a daunting one, but help may be at hand from an unexpected source: the pitch. The WACA has a reputation for being the fastest and bounciest playing surface in world cricket, and has certainly lived up to this reputation in recent years. 

This time, however, it is believed that the pitch will be much slower, with this season's matches proving hard work for the quicker bowlers. 

If England's batting can step up and make the most of a flat deck, they will have a chance in the final two games. England's best Ashes win records in Australia are at Melbourne and Sydney, and with thousands of English fans heading down under for those Tests over the Christmas and new year period, a win or draw in Perth will see some renewed optimism.

Among those keenest to perform will be Alastair Cook in his 150th Test. He has a top score of 37 in the series so far and has faced some criticism, with former Aussie bowler Mitchell Johnson flinging speculative ideas left and right about Cook's possible retirement. The batsman himself, however, has insisted he has made no decisions over his future.

Fans booking corporate hospitality for the Edgbaston Test next summer between England and India may have been present when Cook made 243 against the West Indies this year, suggesting - contrary to the claims of some critics - that he still has the hunger to make big scores. Cook made his first Ashes century at Perth in 2006-07, so for him the WACA does hold some good memories. 

The 2018 Edgbaston Test will feature England against India, a repeat of the match that saw England seize top spot in the ICC Test rankings in 2011, months after winning the Ashes. While England might not be in a position to match that feat, the visitors will again be defending top spot.

India have just completed a 1-0 home series win against Sri Lanka to consolidate their position, but after piling up the victories on home soil recently - last winter saw them play 13 Tests at home - the coming months will bring a succession of tours, starting with a trip to South Africa. After playing in England, India will play in Afghanistan's inaugural Test before visiting Australia.

The agreement to play Afghanistan, which has just been announced, means both of next summer's touring sides will be helping Test cricket's new boys make their debut. Pakistan's tour of the British Isles will feature Ireland's first Test at Malahide in May.

Image: Paul Kane/Getty Images

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