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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Australia vs England

Venue: The Oval | Start: 8:00 pm (AEST)

The home side appear mentally shot after a taxing summer, and it’s difficult to forecast a strong comeback after the disappointment at Old Trafford. With the Ashes gone, England can only hope for a win here to level the series 2-2. And while that doesn’t look disastrous on paper, those on the inside know there’s deeper issues with the test side.

More immediately, however, there’s issues with their personnel. Manchester was yet another disappointing effort with the bat but perhaps more surprisingly, also with the ball. While Stuart Broad continues to shine this series, Jofra Archer seemed to lack motivation while Craig Overton and Jack Leach conversely lacked the teeth to make an impact on a relatively docile wicket. Having picked the same squad for the fifth and final test, it appears England’s batting lineup will remain the same. That is, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler get one last chance to make an impact on the series. Their place in the XI, however, remains dependent on the fitness of Ben Stokes, who has sustained a minor shoulder injury. Stokes will play either way, but should his shoulder fail to recover in time, he’ll be pitted as a specialist batsman, paving the way for Sam Curran or Chris Woakes to get their chance. Then, one of the aforementioned under-fire trio will likely make way.

Celebrations deservedly went on into the night at Old Trafford after the Aussies retained the Ashes in the fourth test. But Justin Langer graded it ‘two out of 10’ on the party scale, knowing the side had just three days to recover before the fifth and final test at The Oval. While motivation may be lacking for the home side, the Aussies hardly need any added incentive. While the primary task of retaining the Ashes has been achieved, they know that 3-1 not only looks better than 2-2, but would better reflect their ascendancy over England throughout the series.

The makeup of Australia’s batting lineup is likely to remain the same, despite David Warner’s horror series as opener. An eye to the Australian summer, where Warner has traditionally plundered touring sides at will, is perhaps the reasoning. Marcus Harris (yet to pass 20 in four innings), Travis Head and even Matthew Wade would also want runs with an eye to the future.

On a bowling front, reports suggest Pat Cummins – who has averaged over 40 overs per test in a taxing UK summer – could be rested. Cummins himself maintains he wants to play, so the selectors will need to weigh up what’s best for him versus the team. Interestingly, he has bowled 164 overs in the four tests thus far, considerably more than Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson bowled (142 and 140 respectively) in all five tests of the last UK Ashes series in 2015.

The pitch is said to be a belter, and according to Langer ‘the best place to bat in the world’. As such, if the Aussies win the toss, they will look to bat long and bat big, knowing a draw would also ensure a series win. But being in mid-September, the pitch is also likely to be dry and offer turn as we’ve seen throughout the series. While Nathan Lyon hasn’t fired as you’d expect since Edgbaston, he will prove pivotal in the third or fourth innings. Unlike all four tests preceding it, no rain is forecast for the duration of the five days in South London.

For the individual markets, Rory Burns appears a shrewd option for England’s top runscorer. After a solid series at the top of the order, expect him to cash in at his county home ground. With the ball, again it’s difficult to go past Broad who has been the clear standout for the home side throughout the Ashes.

Onto the Aussies, and it might sound like a broken record but it’s risky (arguably silly) business opting against the Aussie run machine on a track like The Oval. He needs 304 runs to better Don Bradman’s mark of 974 runs in a series – the most ever. He couldn’t, could he? With uncertainty surrounding Cummins’ place in the XI, the ever-reliable Josh Hazlewood could be the pick for Australia’s top wicket taker.

Head to Head: Australia
Top Runs Scorer – Aust: Steve Smith
Most Wickets – Aust: Josh Hazlewood
Top Runs Scorer – Opponent: Rory Burns
Most Wickets – Opponent: Stuart Broad