“We haven’t got a team yet,” said Ricky Ponting in response to a straight-up question about the Australian XI for Perth but I couldn’t help thinking his comment had an unintended double meaning.
Ponting continues to present a very plausible case for the defence and the Aussie media are showing him a respect that would rarely be afforded an English counterpart in such dire straits.
There are so many other easy targets and the fact that the captain’s not officially a selector means he can sit there, smile gamely and talk lamely about “energy” from the “young guys” and a load of other stuff that seems to be world-class straw-clutching.
Maybe England will fold without Stuart Broad. Maybe the likely pick of Tim Bresnan will backfire. Maybe Phil Hughes and Steve Smith will come off. Maybe Mitchell Johnson will pitch one on the cut strip (the green Waca pitch is so indistinguishable from the outfield green even Glenn McGrath might struggle to know where to land it).
But frankly no one’s buying it at this stage. “You’re joking” was today’s back-page headline on the West Australian about a picture of Hughes and Smith laughing. John Townsend’s sardonic piece explained how Ponting decided that fun was the theme of the pre-Waca build-up. It just feels a bit desperate.
The drivetime presenter on ABC radio was inviting his listeners to suggest songs to fit the mood around the third Test. ‘Eve of destruction’ and ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ summed up the response.
As an England follower, I just find it so to hard to escape from thinking that there must be a banana skin round the corner. Well, if there is one lurking, it will have to be round the next corner.
Everything about the Australian mood and selection screams ‘win or bust’. The selection of Hughes and Smith is a tactical shift by Australia. They bring youth and aggression but I can’t imagine England will be losing sleep over either of them. Hughes averages 22 this season and 20 at the Waca in first-class cricket.
Beware the wounded animal was KP’s contorted metaphor before the start of the series and you don’t get much more wounded than Australia are right now. Ponting even alluded to the possibility of being relieved of the captaincy after this Test if Australia lose. That would seem an extreme reaction but Greg Chappell moves in mysterious ways.
I have previously been sceptical to the point of contrariness about England’s capacity to win this series but even without Broad you would reckon they would have to play pretty badly to lose this Test. Which, if Ponting is right about the nature of the pitch, leaves only one possibility. But I can’t bring myself to say it. Let’s just hope it’s a good ‘un.
John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer Follow him on Twitter @WisdenCric_John
Read more on the Ashes:
Lawrence Booth picks his Broad replacement
Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss on leadership
“Where is the leadership?” John Inverarity
Alex Bowden points the finger at Australia’s forgotten failure
John Stern sees a lot of England past in Australia present
How England got good by Sam Collins
Warne’s comeback and five Ashes myths by Jrod
The Cricket Australia Christmas Newsletter
Lawrence Booth watches Andrew Strauss’ Ashes mask slip
John Stern remembers the ghost of a coach past