Dawid Malan has admitted that England are "hurting" after their disappointing start to the Ashes against Australia, but insisted they have not given up hope of turning around the series.
After a quick turnaround between the first two Tests, England have had time to regroup ahead of the third match in Melbourne, the traditional Boxing Day Test starting on December 26, with the tourists needing a victory to have any hope of reclaiming the Ashes.
Malan said morale in the England camp was "fine" after some honest discussions in the wake of humbling defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, but admitted the squad is aware that significant improvements are required for the remainder of the series.
"The boys are hurting after our performances in the last two games," the No 3 batsman said at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday. "We realise we haven't been good enough across all facets of the game. The boys want to win, we want to win the series too.
"I know it's a long way for us to come but we have to do well and play our best cricket in this Test match to get ourselves back into the series."
Malan's batting has provided some of the rare highlights for England with an innings of 82 in Brisbane and 80 in Adelaide, but the 34-year-old conceded even he had to be better.
"Myself and (Joe Root) have been in the position to score hundreds in two innings and haven't been able to kick on which has probably cost us about a hundred runs as a team at least, and that gets us back in the game," he said. "Scoring 80's good, scoring 180's brilliant, so that's the goal."
With England's openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed struggling for runs, there has been talk of shaking up the top of the order, with Zak Crawley an option.
"Zak's a very talented player," said Malan. "He's a tall bloke who plays the short ball really well so there's every chance that he'll be really good here."
Malan said that England's disrupted preparation had left many of the less experienced players in the difficult position of having to learn how to play in Australian conditions on the job.
"(But) everyone's up for a challenge, everyone's really keen to face up to the Australians," he said. "We do it in white ball cricket, we try and take them on, so hopefully we can get that mindset and not just go into our shells and try and survive."
While there have been questions raised about some of his captaincy decisions, Root remains England's biggest batting threat and Justin Langer has revealed Australia are working to keep the “brilliant” batsman quiet for the rest of the Ashes.
Root has enjoyed a career-best year with the bat, reeling off 1,630 runs at an average of 62.69 including six centuries. But after the first two Tests Down Under, and two unconverted fifties, he is still awaiting his first hundred on Australian soil.
“He is a brilliant player, no doubt about that, and we spend a lot of our time working out how to get on top of Joe,” Australia head coach Langer said. “That’s not only because he’s such a world-class player, but he’s also the captain of the opposition. It’s always been a philosophy in the Australian cricket team to put as much pressure on the opposition captain as possible.
“Joe Root is tough though, we say he hasn’t necessarily got a really big 100 yet, but he’s been an excellent player in this series already so we’ll continue to do our homework on him and make sure, or hope, that we can keep having good effects with him.”
In team news, Australia will be assessing their pace bowlers in the build-up to the Melbourne Test, with Mitchell Starc carrying a rib injury and Josh Hazlewood currently recovering from a side strain.
Captain Pat Cummins will return after an enforced period of isolation caused him to miss the Adelaide Test, but Scott Boland has been called up as cover.