Iain Fletcher: Aussies better all round in Ashes

Close call: Joe Root just fails to catch Nathan Lyon of Australia during day two of the Third Ashes Test. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Close call: Joe Root just fails to catch Nathan Lyon of Australia during day two of the Third Ashes Test. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images
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THE facts cannot be ignored any longer. Australia are simply a better cricket side playing better cricket than England.

Where England used to pride themselves on the bowlers working together as a disciplined unit, it is now the Australians who strangle their opponents by bowling the tightest of lines and giving absolutely no runs away.

Where England used to find crucial partnerships in the middle order it is now Australia who can recover from 150-6 to reach a total in excess of 300 and, while England used to catch flies in the field, they are now dropping them, while Australia are generally plucking them from the skies with alacrity. It will take something miraculous for this superiority to not be translated into an Ashes win for Australia and a very comprehensive one at that.

So, after a few years of English dominance it is good that the contest is back on. Sport needs change otherwise it gets boring.

The question facing the England management, however, is what to do after this series.

Coach Andy Flower will have to decide whether he wishes to remain on the treadmill or whether four years in charge of an international team is enough. If he does step down, he will have plenty of options and a spell in the Indian Premier League earning top dollar might be justified reward for his knowledge and excellence.

That route might also prove too tempting for Kevin Pietersen as well. He has endured a dreadful series. His belief, or let’s be honest and call it what it is, arrogance concerning Peter Siddle has become somewhat embarrassing. Pietersen, below right, believes the Australian seamer cannot bowl and sets out to prove it. On nine occasions before that had failed and so it was no surprise in England’s first innings in Perth, that an ill-thought out and poorly executed pull shot was caught at mid-on.

The idea that Pietersen could be a great to compare with the likes of Viv Richards and Greg Chappell has been proved to be false. He is an excellent player but far from a great and millions of dollars for comparatively little work in the IPL may prove too alluring.

At least England showed some spirit during their innings. Alastair Cook scrapped and struggled to 72 before extra bounce for off-spinner Nathan Lyon did for him.

Michael Carberry showed excellent technique until his dismissal. That proved he can survive in Test cricket but he has yet to show he can thrive.

Such was the Australian control, though, that even England’s best efforts left them slightly behind their hosts.

Yet again so much relies on Ian Bell. He has been the only England player who would get into a combined XI from the two teams and, if he was able to survive an early onslaught overnight, he may have been able to protect the tail.

As a unit, the bottom of the England order have been shell-shocked by Mitchell Johnson in the series. At the end of day two in Perth, the left-armer had not taken a wicket for 38 overs and, in the series so far, had only dismissed seven top-order batsmen. The tail-enders, in contrast, are terrified of him and he has been dismissing them in batches.

The comparison between the two tails is hugely revealing. Australia’s lower-order batsmen have been averaging partnerships of 50 while England’s were managing only 15.

Runs set games up and wickets win them and England are just not getting the runs required. If they were able to approach first innings parity with a score approaching, if not surpassing, 350 then all would not be lost. If so, the Test would become a one-innings match on a pitch that will remain good.

It will take a lot of work, though, with the Australian bowlers proving somewhat parsimonious under new bowling coach Craig McDermott.

As a player he was a firebrand quickie, all snarling aggression and testosterone. The passing of the years and experience have lent wisdom and maturity and the Australian bowlers are shrewdly following his advice to the letter. Indeed, with other players such as James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins recovering well from injury, it suggests another successful spell in Australian cricket is looming.

England have Ben Stokes as a real talent. He bowls at 90mph and bats well. Joe Root is proving now, more than in the summer, that he has the necessary steeliness of character and temperament. But who are the other young guns fighting their way into the squad?

A spinner is needed as Graeme Swann has already endured two operations on his troublesome elbow. Some pacemen must be found and a wicketkeeper-batsman, as Matt Prior is dreadfully out of form. Finally, some young blades to score heavily would be ideal.

The current England team have passed their apogee. They will endure a state of flux as the next generation is discovered and bedded in. Australia underwent that process a couple of seasons ago.

That is the circle of sport and what has made this series, with Australia dominant, so exciting.