The Ashes: A Test of nerves awaits England

Andrew Strauss' England know all about how to respond to chastening adversity – which is just as well after their 267-run defeat in the third Ashes Test at the WACA.

It was Ryan Harris (six for 47), rather than man of the match Mitchell Johnson, who administered the final blows to a team already well and truly sunk after two days of treading water against their resurgent hosts.

By stumps on day one, talk of England retaining the Ashes in time for Christmas was deafening after the recalled Chris Tremlett had helped to bowl Australia out for 268.

But Johnson, with a counter-attacking half-century already under his belt, had other ideas – and once he rediscovered the elusive knack of delivering inswinging thunderbolts to England's right-handers, the tourists appeared helpless.

So it was, a little more than an hour into the fourth day, they had lost all 10 first-innings wickets in 38 overs, and were bowled out second time round in under two sessions for only 123 – allowing Australia to level the series at 1-1, with two to play.

If the outcome in Perth was not quite as numbingly one-sided as Ricky Ponting and Co's 2009 innings victory at Headingley – the events in Leeds seeming a little too surreal ever really to sink in for either side – there was something eerily decisive about the way the tide turned on Australia's west coast.

Resilience

All Strauss can do, of course, is cite the resilience which helped England win the Ashes last year - and somehow try to invoke the spirit of the Brit Oval at the MCG next week.

First, though, there is some mandatory straight talking to listen to too.

"It was very disappointing – especially after being 80 for nought in our first innings, chasing 260," said the England captain.

"We were in a very good position to take control of the game but we weren't able to do that, and you have got to give Australia a lot of credit for the way they bowled.

"Mitchell Johnson bowled a very incisive spell – and once they got in front in the game, they didn't let us back into it."

Harris and Johnson finished with 18 of the 20 wickets required between them – and although Tremlett managed eight himself, the major difference between the sides was the respective batsmanship.

Michael Hussey took his series tally beyond 500, with his second century of the winter.

And for England, the very players who had dominated their hosts for days on end in Brisbane and then in Adelaide were no longer able to stay put for more than a couple of hours at best.

"As a batting line-up, we will be very disappointed with our two performances," Strauss admitted.

"We've got to take it on the chin, learn the lessons and move on.

"In 2009 it was a see-sawing series, and there's no reason to expect this one not to be.

"You have certainly got to address the way we lost wickets in clusters.

"If you lose three, four, or five wickets in a session it's always hard to come back into the game – so the batters have got to take responsibility for that."

Questions will inevitably be asked of Strauss and coach Andy Flower, over what tactics will be adopted and the selection for the Boxing Day Test.

Promotion back up the order for Ian Bell appears to be increasingly overdue; Paul Collingwood's hold on number five is becoming tenuous, and many believe 21-year-old fast bowler Steven Finn will need a rest before the series is done.

"I certainly wouldn't rule anything out at this stage – but now is not the time to panic particularly," said Strauss.

"There are definitely lessons to be learned from this game – it would be wrong for us to wash our hands of it completely."

Strauss discounts, however, two popular theories – that Australia benefited here from their return to yesteryear sledging, and that England's batsmen cannot cope with extra pace and bounce.

"I just think we didn't react well to a couple of good spells of bowling," he said.

"Mitchell Johnson started swinging it – and before we knew it, we had lost three batsmen lbw.

"Australia played better than us, and deserved their win.

"What you 'say' never wins you a Test match – it's what you 'do'.

"There is always going to be a lot of competitive fire in an Ashes Test match ... both sides expect it.

"But the couple of words that were exchanged – which I didn't think was over the top on either side – don't win or lose you a Test match.

"For us to be worrying about that side of things is taking our eye off what is actually important – which is that our performances weren't good enough."

England will place their faith then in the determination imbued by Strauss and Flower.

"Guys need to stand up and deliver. You can't leave it to someone else – and unfortunately too many of us did that in this Test match," said their captain.

"We are disappointed to lose the game in the manner we have done.

"But we have always bounced back well in the past, and there's no reason we can't do that."

The ' don't panic' sentiment has been echoed by former England captain Michael Vaughan who led England to Ashes victory on home soil in 2005.

He believes now is not the time for major changes to the England line-up.

But he feels England need to win the next Test in Melbourne which begins on Boxing Day because the pitch for the final Test in Sydney is likely to favour Australia's bowlers.

Vaughan has also backed spinner Graeme Swann to play a more prominent role in the Melbourne Test as England seek the win which will mean they retain the Ashes.

Vaughan told the BBC: "I'm sure England will come back. It just depends on the pitch.

"If the pitch is slow at the MCG I am sure England will fancy it.

"I think England will have to win at the MCG because I do think the Sydney ground will have some pace in it."

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Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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