This is a defining moment for Alastair Cook. Now it is about the man and this is a fantastic opportunity for him to stamp his authority on this England team. Kevin Pietersen, James Anderson, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Matt Prior and Cook have all been wonderful players for a long time. But now it is a question of character, not just their skill. They are being challenged by the fear of facing Mitchell Johnson's pace and staring at an embarrassing Ashes series loss. There is the real possibility of a whitewash, and if it happens, heads should roll.
But England only need to win two of the three remaining Tests to retain the Ashes. They do not have to win all three. Cook has it in him to turn it around if he brings out his tough side. He needs to get to Perth and eyeball every single England player and ask them, 'Are you up for it?'. In my opinion Cook had his best tactical day as captain on day one in Adelaide. He was outstanding. His field settings and bowling changes were excellent. He had a tough attack to juggle with two quicks, two spinners and a young all-rounder making his debut. It was also one of the worst bowling days imaginable, it was cold, windy and a flat wicket. He also lost a crucial toss.
But if a few catches had been held it could have been England's day. I thought the signs were good and Cook showed he is really improving as a captain. He needs to keep doing that for the sake of this England side. Cook has to find a bit of form. His lack of runs will be killing him. He needs to lead the way for himself and the team. Rather than fear the challenge, he has to look forward to getting the best out of his team. Somehow England have to match Australia's intensity. A young captain should not have to do that with an experienced side but England started this series as overwhelming favourites and Australia have surprised them.
The England camp did not think Australia had it in them to play this well. At the end of the Ashes series in the summer, I said I felt Australia were in a better position than England. The result flattered them, and while they were the stronger side in the series, I just felt Australia had worked out their best team. Everyone said I was just being pro-Australian and blinkered but the signs were there.
Australia are playing an excellent brand of cricket and the hard work has paid off. It shows the strength of leadership. Darren Lehmann has done a great job but Michael Clarke has to take credit too. When they lost in England he said it was not good enough and vowed they would work hard to improve. England have to say that now. They have to admit they have not been up for the fight. Australia had to cop the flak last summer from their own fans, England supporters and the media. They have turned it around through aggression, and not by playing passive cricket.
David Warner is back on top form and Johnson has added something extra to the team. Clarke and Brad Haddin are in good form and the majority of the team has clicked. The brand of cricket Australia are playing will hold them in good stead for a long time. But I thought Clarke was outstanding at the post-match press conference when he said they had won only two Tests this year. He knows they have to keep improving. The first innings in Perth will be crucial for the rest of the series.
If England allow Australia to get away with the bat or are bowled out cheaply it is game over. It is hard to stop Johnson and, facing bowling like his, you have to go one of two ways. You either take him on, which can be a risk, or see him off. The bravado of trying to hook him out of the attack does not work. He only bowls three or four-over spells so the best way is to be patient, block the good ones, duck the bouncers and hit the bad balls. Going to Perth, it seems to me that England do not know their best batting order or their third seamer. I think Chris Tremlett bowled well in Brisbane but without his normal pace and lift. He will benefit from the extra bounce at the Waca and performed well there three years ago.
I presume Tremlett will play ahead of Monty Panesar even though he outbowled Swann in Adelaide. Swann deserves another chance and you do not want to upset the slips combination as most wickets at the Waca fall behind the stumps. Catching is crucial and Swann is a good fielder at second slip. It is unfair to criticise Pietersen for his performances. You have to accept the good with the bad.
You cannot praise him for outrageous knocks and then criticise him for when he plays a silly shot. With players such as Pietersen you just have to accept that is how they play. You shake your head but other times you shake your head in disbelief after a brilliant innings. We should not be trying to change KP.