It tells you everything you need to know about England’s fortunes that, in one of the driest cities in the world, their best chance of achieving the draw that would sustain their Ashes campaign is the hope of rain.
Australia scored 346 runs for the loss of just one wicket on the third day as England’s attack was rendered impotent by some fine batting and a flat pitch. The Australia lead is already 146 and there is plenty of power to add. If Australia win the game, they will regain the Ashes by taking an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series. But if England gain a draw, they can still retain the urn if they win the last two matches by virtue of the holding them at present.
But despite the chastening nature of the day, Paul Farbrace had no criticism for the England bowlers. Instead the England assistant coach, a man brought out to explain such grim days for England with such regularity you wonder whether he should carry a scythe, praised their efforts but conceded the English system was not producing spin or pace bowlers required for such conditions. He also suggested that a lack of ruthlessness with the bat on day two had allowed Australia back into the game.
The problem, he concluded, was that England simply don’t have the bowlers to unlock strong batting line-ups on flat pitches.
“There’s always something for our bowlers in England,” Farbrace said. “A little bit of swing or a little bit of movement off the surface. We saw that in Adelaide when there was a little bit of swing or movement off the surface, we have high quality bowlers who can exploit those conditions.
“But when it comes to flatter pitches, we don’t have that express pace. And we haven’t got the highest quality of magical spin. On flat wickets like this in Australia you need to be able to bowl 90-plus mph to have a chance of making a difference. They have a group of high-quality bowlers to do so.
“I’m not being critical of our bowlers. I’m being honest. We don’t have bowlers bowling 90mph-plus in our set-up and we don’t have too many waiting in the wings to come in. And one or two that do bowl that pace can only bowl four-over spells. So they’re not exactly ideal for Test cricket.
“We need to find those quick bowlers. And yes, in the long term, something needs to be done.
“It has been an exceptionally tough day for our bowlers. But we feel we have managed to get stuck in and compete as hard as possible. In the field we have tried our best to back the bowlers up. I don’t think we have been flat, or lacking effort. On that wicket, we just haven’t got anything else to offer.
“What can we do? We have tried various ideas and plans. The majority of ways we have of taking wickets with the attack we have is to be monotonous with line and length, and we have tried that. They have been very honest, toiled away with what they have got and on that flat surface they’ve found it exceptionally hard work.”
Despite the scorecard, Farbrace hinted that the turning point of the match came when England let slip a strong foundation with the bat. England were well poised at 368 for 4 before a collapse saw the last six wickets fall for the addition of just 35 runs.
“When you get yourself into a position where you can go on and make 550 and compete in the game…” Farbrace said. “And it’s been a pattern in this series. We have got in good positions and we have either not been good enough or they have been better and taken the initiative away.
“It was very disappointing to be in a position where 550 looked a good score for us. It does knock the stuffing out of you a bit.
“Two blokes played out of their boots and got us from 140 for 4 to 400 but it’s shown that it wasn’t enough. The two today have shown that, when you get in, you have to be greedy and go on and get big scores. That’s what the best teams do and we haven’t been able to do that.”
But Farbrace insisted the Ashes had not gone and called upon England to show “some guts and determination” over the last couple of days.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We have to believe we can fight hard over the next two days and make sure there’s still a contest to keep going.
“We’ve got to show some guts and determination. We’ve got to fight as hard as we possibly can. And if we get into a position where we were in the first innings, we have to make sure we capitalise on it.”