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Middle-order England not strong enough to make 334 runs

After another top-order slump followed a fantastic start to day two of England’s third Test against Australia at the WACA in Perth, Alastair Cook and co will be dwelling on what might have been.

Skittling the Aussies for 385 – with their last four wickets producing just 59 – gave England a decent opportunity to win this match and openers Cook and Michael Carberry looked in the mood for runs during the early overs.

The pair made 85 before Carberry knocked a Ryan Harris ball into his own stumps just seven shy of his half century, providing a steady platform to build on.

Even when Joe Root followed the 33-year-old back into the pavilion for four, despite scant evidence that he’d nicked Shane Watson to wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, England were still in the game with their captain at the crease.

When he went, caught at point by David Warner for 72, thoughts of a dramatic England comeback died and the little brown urn’s Antipodean seat got that little bit softer.

Kevin Pietersen’s 10th Test dismissal by ‘bogeyman’ Peter Siddle for a disappointing 19 runs left the tourists on 180-4, with all-rounder Ben Stokes – in just his second Test – and experienced Aussie-basher Ian Bell expected to pick up the pieces.

Based on what we’ve seen so far in this series, England’s last seven willow whompers won’t save the day and should be backed to fall short of the 334-run target set by Coral at 5/6 odds.

Bell may have hit three centuries against the same opposition just a few short months ago, but the Warwickshire man has only made over 50 once in this series and threw away his other three wickets for a measly 43 runs.

At least Stokes’ knock of 14 thus far has banished the memory of his debut first-innings in Adelaide, when he became the first (and still only) lbw of the series for a single score thanks to mean Mitchell Johnson, but the New Zealand-born Durham youngster looks far from comfortable in the Perth heat.

Matt Prior’s recent troubles with the bat have been well publicised and an England tail that wagged to the tune of 30 runs per innings on average in the first two Tests will be strengthened by the presence of Tim Bresnan, but it’s hard to see the Yorkshireman putting on big runs at the WACA.

Australia’s crack bowling unit will pick up a new ball before lunch tomorrow morning and with all the quicks bar Johnson emboldened by vital wickets, the writing looks on the wall for sorry England, who’s biggest innings so far in this series was 312 in Adelaide.

Michael Clarke’s hosts are now 4/7 to win the match and officially wrestle the urn away from their old foes, with the visitors 4/1 to delay the inevitable with an unlikely triumph and the draw is 16/5.

Odds of 4/7 are also available about none of England’s remaining batsmen beating Cook’s haul of 72 in this innings and with second and third-favourites Bell and Stokes both still short of 20 runs, this bet looks sure to cop.