Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower have two positions to consider as they contemplate their side for Boxing Day. In the aftermath of the humbling defeat to Australia in Perth, Strauss was correct to state that there was no need for people to panic, but England's captain and team director do need to be flexible and ruthless with their decision making if they believe changes need to be made.
The two positions that need to be analysed are those of Paul Collingwood and Steven Finn, and the decision on one – Collingwood – will ultimately have an effect on the selection of the other. It is the position of Finn that is currently grabbing the headlines and if the selectors continue to pick Collingwood there is a strong case for the Middlesex fast bowler to be rested on Boxing Day.
Finn has performed better than anyone would have expected. He is on his first full England tour and is currently the highest wicket-taker in the Test series. Not bad for a 21-year-old. Finn is not, however, bowling as well as he can. He would admit that he has been slightly fortuitous to pick up the number of wickets he has – 14 – and he knows that he is conceding too many runs – 4.3 per over.
In a four-man attack a captain needs all his bowlers to be firing and Strauss currently has two – Finn and Graeme Swann – whose performances are variable. Finn's inconsistency is down to his rawness. He has not played a huge amount of Test cricket and will have bad spells. He has never experienced the physical and mental demands that an Ashes series brings, and these take their toll. In time consistency will come because Finn is a high-quality bowler. What he needs to do now is get back to bowling fuller deliveries and not to try and bounce batsmen out.
An orthodox finger spinner is always going to struggle a little when facing good batsmen on a true pitch and that is what Swann has encountered in Brisbane and Perth. In Adelaide, on a pitch that offered assistance to spinners, he showed his class by taking seven wickets and bowling England to victory. Swann has found it harder to find his length on the bouncier pitches of Brisbane and Perth. At these two venues the ball bounces higher, which has allowed Michael Hussey to play the pull and cut shot with confidence and regularity. At Adelaide, on a slower and lower bouncing pitch, more Swann deliveries would have skidded through to hit the stumps, which increases the danger of playing the pull or cut shot.
If the bounce of a pitch can be trusted good batsmen will be more positive. In Brisbane and Perth combined, Swann bowled six overs more than he did in Adelaide, yet in those two Tests he conceded more than 100 runs and took just four wickets. And it is the nature of the pitches that will continue to affect Swann's potency.
With a spinner whose impact is variable, Strauss needs his seamers to be on the spot and this is where Finn has struggled. His inconsistency has given Australia an outlet, an end to attack, which has helped them to recover on at least three occasions.
Finn, however, could be accommodated in a five-man attack and this is the route I believe they should go down. A five-man attack gives a captain many more options when he is out in the field and it can forgive a bowler having a bad day or a wicket-taker who concedes too many runs.
If England were to choose this option, which Flower has already stated they will not, Collingwood would be the player to make way. Collingwood has many qualities as a person, batsman and fielder – the catch to dismiss Ricky Ponting was something special – but his main job is to score runs, and that is something he is not doing. Moving Ian Bell up to No 5 in the batting order makes sense no matter whether Collingwood plays or not.
In his last 12 Test innings Collingwood has had eight single-figure scores and struck just 184 runs at an average of 15.33. His record against Australia is modest, too. In 14 Tests he has scored 762 runs at 31.75, and if the 206 he scored at Adelaide in 2006-07 is removed his average drops to 24.17.
Matthew Prior, who has struck only 49 runs at an average of 16.33 in the series, is also in need of a score. Prior was rattled in Perth – why else would you react the way he did when he was dismissed by Peter Siddle? – and he along with several other members of the side need to refocus.
The England dressing room after Adelaide seemed confident bordering on cocky, and they had plenty to say to Ponting and his players in Adelaide and on the first day at Perth. There is nothing wrong with having the odd word so long as it is controlled and it doesn't become an obsession that distracts you. You also need to be able to take the same sort of comments when they come back at you – which they will.
The behaviour – the sprinkler dance – and talk – "Can I have your phone number Mitchell?" and "We can leave Australia unbeaten" – has provoked an Aussie response and Ponting's side hit England hard in Perth. At the end of the third Test England looked rattled and they need to regain their composure.
Despite the defeat at the Waca, England appear to be the better side, even though they are yet to play the most consistent cricket. England have posted the two highest and two lowest totals of the series. They have also struck five of the eight hundreds scored and put together four of the six hundred-partnerships. Three of the top four wicket-takers are English, too.
Australia, meanwhile, have compiled eight of the 12 fifties scored and have the three best innings bowling analysis. Picking the winner from all this is impossible. Initially I thought the series would be a 2-2 draw, now I haven't got a clue, which for the sake of sport is just what you want.Reuse content