Australia’s magnificent pace trio is rousing itself for one last effort to achieve the third series whitewash in Ashes history as England batting coach Graham Gooch declared all the tourists’ jobs were on the line.
Australia hold a commanding lead of 311 runs with six wickets in hand two days into the final Test at the SCG, after England were demoralised for the umpteenth time by the pace juggernaut of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. A five-nil sweep is so close the Australians can taste it, with Chris Rogers unbeaten on a fluent 73 at stumps and George Bailey 20 not out.
‘‘Day two, 300-plus lead – it’s a pretty good position to be in,’’ Harris said. ‘‘It’s obviously not a done thing yet; we figure they’re going to fire at some stage ... I don’t think the wicket is getting any easier [to bat on] and if we bowl like we did today, we’ll go all right.’’
The prospect of England’s batsmen firing appears remote in light of the latest dismissals of senior batsmen Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who average 26, 32 and 27 for the series, respectively.
Cook inexplicably padded up to Harris’s second ball of the day, Pietersen fished outside his off stump and Bell would have been out for a golden duck if Shane Watson had hung on to a slips chance, before Siddle had him caught behind by Brad Haddin for two.
Gooch said they had been unable to break the Australians’ stranglehold. ‘‘There are three immediate reasons why they’ve struggled and that is Siddle, Harris and Johnson, and [Nathan] Lyon has backed them up pretty well,’’ Gooch said.
‘‘They are not bowling anything loose. Johnson is bowling very straight. You still expect players of that calibre, with that record behind them, to score a proportion of runs and they have not been able to do it. We only have one hundred in four-and-a-bit Tests and that’s not going to win you anything, so everyone has to look at themselves. The coaches, the players are all going to be under scrutiny, quite rightly. The brutal truth is it’s not been good enough.
‘‘The powers that be will definitely be reviewing everyone after this series, as they do, so we’ll all be under scrutiny.’’
The excellence of Australia’s pace contingent has often collided with England’s careless batting in this series but the tourists slumped to a new low on Saturday when none of the top five (including bruised nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson) posted more than seven. They succumbed to the pacemen’s combination of ruthless efficiency and brute force for 155.
When the words ‘‘ENGLAND HAVE AVOIDED THE FOLLOW-ON’’ flashed up on the scoreboard, thanks to debutant No.11 Boyd Rankin’s first runs in Test cricket, the Barmy Army greeted the achievement with a raucous cheer. England still conceded a first innings decifit of 171.
Gooch admitted Cook was feeling the pressure as captain but backed him to lead England out of the debris. ‘‘When things have gone the way they have unfolded for us there is more pressure and you feel more responsible as a captain. He made an error in judgment today, most players have been out that way, but it’s particularly poignant when it happens like that at the beginning of the day when you’re trying to set the tone,’’ Gooch said.
‘‘Ultimately the individual has to make the decision but for me he is still the guy who should be there as the rebuilding takes place.
‘‘I think everyone on this tour would not like to leave under the circumstances of this tour, four-nil down and behind the eight ball in the fifth game. I think everyone will be trying to put things right.’’
Michael Clarke’s team is on course to emulate the Australian side of 1920-21, led by Warwick Armstrong, and Ricky Ponting’s team of champions in 2006-07 with an Ashes whitewash. Johnson, with 34 wickets at an astonishing success rate of 14.02, only needs to run through England one more time to become the fourth Australian to collect 40 wickets in an Ashes campaign.