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The Ashes: five areas needing urgent attention by England



Ben Stokes, brilliantly, made England's first of the series on the final day of the third Test. The Ashes were as good as gone by then, and Australia had seven individual hundreds on the board. It is as telling as any statistic in the whole mis-match of a series to date; to be competitive in Test cricket, centuries from the top order are non-negotiable.


Pietersen is as guilty as any, having got himself in and out in all but one innings. A top score of 53 will win nothing, and is one of the reasons England have fallen so badly short. Pietersen, though, is still a match-winner - as long as he wants to be. Three of the finest innings of his outstanding career came just last year. There is no sensible rationale to suggest he has regressed to become a liability in the meantime. He will not go on forever, but England would be pulling the plaster straight off the wound if - as some are suggesting - they drop him mid-series.


England were on a hiding to nothing, more so even than in Brisbane and Adelaide, when Stuart Broad was unavailable through injury in the second innings at Perth. In the first, though, they were outbowled - not by a Mitchell Johnson blitz this time, but by old-fashioned virtues such as tight lines and the right length. Australia never gave the opposing batsmen an outlet, whereas England's bowlers let their hosts off the hook from 143 for five.


It is becoming a worry that Matt Prior has fallen short of his own very high standards for three successive series. Behind, as well as in front of the stumps, he was not at his best in Perth. He has been a pivotal presence common to many England victories, and they will be wise to give him a little more time yet to prove his best years are not behind him. Jos Buttler, rather than Jonny Bairstow, may be the long-term replacement.


Australia coach Darren Lehmann insists, most mornings, on one of his team, coaching colleagues or medical staff telling a joke in the dressing room. It is hard to imagine a similar touch of levity from his opposite number Andy Flower. Lehmann, by all accounts, is no soft touch either if he feels standards have slipped or boundaries been crossed. Flower's England have had little to smile about in recent times, of course, and a strong work ethic is admirable. A little more joy in the job might not go amiss, though . . . is it a coincidence, for example, that the only hundred of the series has come from a fresh face yet to be constrained perhaps by what he sees and hears around him?

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