SYDNEY: Day 100: the mission continues. Survivors from England’s 2013-14 tour of Australia may one day be able to look back and extract some grim humour from the sorry affair. Right now, taking the positives would be taking the proverbial. With one victory in 12 encounters, three crushing series defeats and numerous casualties, England could do with a few weeks in a sensory deprivation tank. Instead, they must countenance one final bout of frenzied competition against a rampant foe.
England’s latest loss, more recent than the eight-wicket shellacking at the MCG, was that of their team director, Andy Flower. With the architect gone, the England matrix seems ever more fragile. The attention will now turn to Ashley Giles, the limited-overs coach, who also has the small matter of a World Twenty20 on his mind. Since taking charge of England’s pajama cricket at the start of 2012, Giles has overseen six ODI and T20 series defeats, with just two wins, though the Champions Trophy suggested greater potential. A T20 victory to finish the tour would be the smallest of crumbs but England are in need of sustenance.
Australia, of course, are in no mood to offer England anything so much as a cup of tea, let alone sympathy. George Bailey’s ruthlessness in sealing the series in Melbourne - smashing 60 off 28 balls to pummel England senseless - extended to denying 39-year-old Brad Hodge, on his first international appearance in six years, a bat in front of his home crowd. The bowlers were superb during England’s pitiful thrash and a 3-0 win would seal their rise to sixth in the T20 rankings.
James Muirhead has less than a dozen senior appearances to his name but, in the last three months, England have faced him five times. His figures across three formats are a very respectable 12 for 337 and the tourists still seem unable to get the measure of Australia’s latest leg-spinning tyro. The 20-year-old gets appreciable turn and also showcased his control and composure at the MCG. Looks to be an exciting bolter ahead of the World T20.
It is easy to ridicule Jade Dernbach - and many do - but he is also one of England’s most gifted bowlers in this format. When it goes wrong for him, as it has in the two matches so far (1 for 92 from seven overs), it makes for car-crash viewing but, in the absence of Steven Finn, he remains England’s most-likely wicket-taking option, with a strike rate (16.4) that betters Mitchell Johnson, Sunil Narine and Lasith Malinga. He needs to rediscover his mojo, pronto.
Mitchell Starc made an impressive return from injury in the previous match and will continue working towards top form. There may be a temptation to look at Ben Cutting or Kane Richardson but the batting looks in good nick, with Hodge hoping for a crack in the middle this time.
England probably deployed their first-choice T20 XI, minus Kevin Pietersen, in Melbourne, only for them to produce a truly abysmal performance. The top order failed again and England could try opening with Luke Wright, as he has been doing in the Big Bash. Ben Stokes is surely due a crack and Dernbach’s place may also come under pressure from Chris Jordan.
Australia: Aaron Finch, Cameron White, Brad Hodge, Glenn Maxwell, George Bailey (capt), Chris Lynn, Matthew Wade (wk), Josh Hazlewood/Ben Cutting/Kane Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Starc, James Muirhead.
England: Luke Wright, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad (capt), Jade Dernbach/Chris Jordan, James Tredwell.
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