Perth: Australia look poised to seal one of the great turnarounds in Ashes history when they take on reeling England in Perth from tomorrow after bulldozing their way to a 2-0 lead.
The Aussies went into the Test series just months after a 3-0 loss in England but the incredible revival of fast bowler Mitchell Johnson triggered big wins in Brisbane and Adelaide. The home side can take an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five-match series on the famously fast pitch at the WACA -- Johnson`s home ground -- while shell-shocked England, winners of the past three series, are desperately searching for answers.
Rival captains Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook will both play their 100th Tests but it is unlikely both men will be celebrating at the end of it. England coach Andy Flower has warned that he is not afraid to ring the changes after batting failures in both of the first two Tests and some unconvincing bowling.
"We have taken some serious hits but we do have a squad full of people who are determined to turn the ship around, and that`s what we must do," Flower said. "There will obviously be changes in Perth. I`m absolutely ready to make tough decisions.
"We`ll assess those conditions and see who will best be able to help us take 20 wickets." Batting comparisons between Clarke, 32, and Cook, 28, are indicative of a series that has gone all Australia`s way so far after they won by 381 runs in Brisbane and 218 in Adelaide.
While Clarke has scored centuries in both of Australia`s thumping wins, for a series average of 71, opener Cook has eked out just 82 runs in four innings at 20.50.
And while Clarke is luxuriating in the success of his three-man pace attack, spearheaded by Johnson, Cook is facing questions about his own leadership and his ageing team.
With fingers pointed at the contributions of senior players Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann, James Anderson and also Cook, the England skipper has been on the defensive. "We`ve got some very good players in there, their record suggests there are some very good players. Good players turn it around and that`s what we need to do," Cook said.
"There are some very tough moments as a captain and we`re in the middle of it. "We`re 2-0 down and I`m responsible as a captain for that in the sense that I`m leading the troops out there.
"It does hit you quite hard. But it`s how you bounce back from it." However, England`s ability to recover will depend much on the form of left-armer Johnson, who has been virtually unplayable at times with 17 wickets at 12.70.
Johnson, sporting a now-trademark handlebar moustache, has also taken more of his 222 Test wickets at the WACA than at any other Test venue, with 36 scalps at a shade under 20. While Australia, long in the doldrums after the retirement of a host of greats in the past decade, are now resurgent, Clarke has urged his team to stay grounded as they try to clinch the series.
Clarke described his side`s record of only two Test wins since January as unacceptable, saying: "Our feet are certainly well and truly cemented on the ground."
But he added: "It`s obviously exciting that we`re going to a ground that we feel so comfortable playing at."