Self-belief crucial if England are to find a way back

England's Alastair Cook
England's Alastair Cook
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THE cliches rained down like confetti.

“It’s not impossible we can still win the Ashes… If we believe that they’re gone, they might as well be… We just have to dust ourselves off, work really hard and believe we can turn the situation around… The only ones who can do anything about that situation are ourselves…” And so on.

England captain Alastair Cook made all the expected noises after his team’s thumping defeat in the Adelaide Test.

His side are 2-0 down going into the third Test at Perth, starting on Friday, a venue where England have lost eight of 12 Tests and won only one.

On the face of it, England have a mountain to climb and few give them hope of making it to first base.

Blown away by Australia’s aggression, they look utterly shell-shocked and mentally shot.

If England recover from this (permission to wheel out the dreariest cliche in sports journalism), it would be the greatest comeback since Lazarus.

My own view remains what it was before the very first ball of the series was bowled – Australia will win the Ashes.

However, it is not technically impossible, of course, that England can hit back even if the evidence suggests it is extraordinarily improbable.

Cook’s contention that “if we believe that they’re gone (the Ashes), they might as well be” is the first key to turning the series around.

Confidence is not exactly sky-high after England lost successive Tests by over 200 runs for the first time since 1908, but conviction is going to be every bit as essential as character and courage.

This Australian team are not unbeatable and there are cracks that England could potentially exploit, particularly in the batting.

After all, we’re not talking Langer, Hayden and Ponting here – just Rogers, Watson, Smith and Bailey.

In a strange way, England can take succour from some of their mistakes.

On day one of the first Test in Brisbane, for example, they had Australia 132-6 before allowing them to wriggle free to 295.

The positive was that they knocked over the first six batsmen for next to nothing and, if they can do it once, they can do it again.

The difference, of course, is that they must finish the job if it happens again.

At Adelaide, England dropped several catches in the Australia first innings which facilitated a final total of 570-9 declared.

Some boffin calculated that those blunders cost England 286 runs, so better fielding could make a big difference.

It must be remembered, too, that England need only draw the series to retain the Ashes as the current holders, which means they still have some margin for error.

The statistic that only once before has a team come back from 2-0 down to win the Ashes 3-2 (Bradman’s Australia did it in 1936-37) is therefore irrelevant: two wins and a draw would be sufficient for Cook and his men.

It is unclear how many changes England might make for Perth but the most obvious should give them a major boost.

The return of Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan from injury cannot come soon enough; indeed, his omission for Adelaide was surely a mistake.

Team selection, in general, has been a bit curious.

Is Ben Stokes really the answer at No6?

Should Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance and/or Jonny Bairstow have been left kicking their heels?

There is no magic solution, but it has to be questioned whether England have correctly utilised their resources.

Crumbs of comfort, however, are scarce and the simple fact is that England must play better.

Half of their wickets have been giveaways; even Santa Claus is not as generous as the current England side.

Criminally, 21 of the 40 dismissals have been to leg-side catches, eight of which have been grabbed on the boundary.

Players have been guilty of compulsive hooking and pulling; indeed, if there was a viable alternative as a replacement on the fast, bouncy pitch of Perth, I would consider dropping Stuart Broad for the outrageous shot he played in the first over of the fifth day at Adelaide, which betrayed a worrying lack of fight.

Clearly, England must look to their senior players to turn around their fortunes.

Cook has scored 82 runs in the series at 20.50, Kevin Pietersen 101 at 25.25 and Matt Prior 73 at 18.25.

Those statistics are simply not good enough.

Jimmy Anderson has captured five wickets at 48.80 and Graeme Swann four at 99.25, while if anyone thinks Monty Panesar is the answer for Swann at Perth, Panesar himself averaged 99 at Adelaide.

The only batsmen who can hold their heads up are Joe Root and Ian Bell and, to a lesser extent, Michael Carberry.

The only bowler who has emerged with credit is Broad, who has taken 11 wickets at 23.00.

Although the scoreline would suggest the series is very much over, it is not, as Cook said, impossible that England could yet win the Ashes.

However, it is true that there is more chance of seeing a fat bloke with a white beard coming down your chimney in a fortnight’s time.