For England, no ground in world cricket packs quite such an onomatopoeic punch as the WACA. The nervous Poms just always get beaten up there.
Heading to Adelaide last week, England’s confidence may have been shot thanks to a humiliating defeat at the Gabba, but at least they had fond memories of South Australia on which to draw. After a repeat dose of their Brisbane batting woes at the re-vamped Adelaide Oval, Perth will not offer them such crumbs of comfort.
The visitors have a miserable record in the world’s most isolated city, boasting just one lonely victory in 12 matches, and even that was against the World Series Cricket-ravaged Australians of 1978-79. They’ve managed just three draws and have lost their past six matches at the WACA Ground, traditionally the fastest and bounciest pitch in Australia.
Man of the moment Mitchell Johnson will be relishing a return to his home ground, while England’s batsmen will need to rein in their penchant for the hook shot if they are to get anything from the game and keep their hopes of retaining The Ashes alive.
With their batsmen short on application and their bowlers unable to tie Australia down, coach Andy Flower has promised changes, with an all-pace attack possible. Can it help stop the rot, though? Recent history suggests not.
1994-95 – Normal service resumed
After England had recorded their first win on Australian soil for eight years in the fourth test, the hosts bounced back to complete a 3-1 series win. Australia flew out of the blocks with a Michael Slater century of typical verve, punishing an England side who dropped 10 catches in the match, including seven in an Australian first innings that saw Steve Waugh left stranded 99 not out.
There was little to cheer for England who, despite Graham Thorpe’s century, found themselves with a first innings deficit of 107. To get this close was a fine achievement in itself, as Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash (72) added 158 having joined forces at 4-77 on the second evening.
Australia slammed home their advantage with a commanding second-innings performance that saw Greg Blewett (joining the hallowed company of Messrs Ponsford and Walters) become just the third Aussie to score centuries in his first two Tests.
When Tubby declared with a lead of 453, England had 104 overs to hold out for a draw. Their likeness to today’s England side comes not just in terms of their slack fielding – Craig McDermott and Glenn McGrath had soon reduced Mike Atherton’s side to 5-27 on a pitch still full of runs. Only Ramprakash and Steve Rhodes provided any resistance on the final day, before McDermott blew the tail away to claim 6-38 and a victory by a 2013-esque 329 runs. It was a Test match that brought down the curtain on the England careers of Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, but a joint return of just 49 runs did not provide a fitting end for a pair of distinguished performers.
2006-07 – Ashes regained
The comparisons with the 2006/07 “Ashes Horribilis” are becoming ever more evident for English supporters and this was the moment that, after just 462 days – the most fleeting custody in history, Australia wrestled the Ashes back from England. Things looked good for the visitors, who, having included Monty Panesar, skittled the hosts for 244 on day one, with the spinner taking 5-92 to become just the fourth twirler to take a five-for at the WACA. The tourists’ reply was meek, however, with Kevin Pietersen’s 70 the only bright spot in a forlorn 215.
The hosts set about working their magic as they racked up 5-527, with Hussey, Clarke and Gilchrist all scoring tons, the latter’s from just 59 balls, the second-fastest in Test history. Clarke and Gilchrist plundered 162 in 20 overs as they pushed for a declaration against some charitable bowling. Chasing a notional 557 to win, Alastair Cook scored his first Ashes century and Ian Bell and Pietersen scored fine half-centuries (they’ll need more than that this time round), before Shane Warne claimed his 699th Test scalp to complete a 206-run victory.
2010-11 – Aussies stop the rot
Even on England’s record-breaking tour of 2010-11, they couldn’t win in Perth. Buoyed by an innings victory in Adelaide, they headed to Perth full of confidence and Andrew Strauss was quickly vindicated for sending Australia in, as they managed just 268. Warning signs were there for England though, as Mitchell Johnson led a lower order rearguard with 62. When Mad Mitch bats well, he bowls well too and England soon found themselves blown away by a spell of fast bowling every bit as good as his effort in Adelaide last week. Johnson, displaying a brand of cricket far from the docile, wayward type England had seen previously, took 6-38 as the tourists ran scared, both top order and tail.
On day three Mike Hussey, Australia’s renaissance man, set about building an imposing lead as he reached his second century of the series. Christ Tremlett took five but England were left with a target of 390. This time it was Ryan Harris’ turn. He tore through the top order to claim 6-47 and match Johnson’s nine in the match. Already 5/81 overnight, Harris wasted no time seeing the tail off to leave the series tantalisingly poised at 1-1 going into Christmas. This had been quite a turnaround, considering Australia had found themselves a precarious 5-69 on the opening day.
Will Macpherson writes for Back Page Lead.