The final and deciding game of what has been an absorbing test series is almost upon us. To say the quality of cricket hasn’t been great would be an understatement but nevertheless the 2009 Ashes series has been compulsive viewing.
We’ve had Monty Panesar batting out 11 overs to save a match, Mitchell Johnson’s bowling all over the place at times, Flintoff’s magnificent Lord’s display and Michael Clarke’s excellence with the bat throughout the series. As stated above from a quality point of view it hasn’t been great with two average looking sides struggling badly at times but thats all in the past and at The Oval on Thursday morning the Ashes are up for grabs again.
England will be hoping that the longer lay off has helped them get the debacle of Headingley out of their system as Australia would probably have liked to have played the 5th test last week as they will look to carry the momentum gained in the Headingley victory with them into the final test.
England will welcome back Andrew Fintoff – even if he’s only on one leg – into their final eleven and will also give a test debut to 28 year old Warwickshire batsman Jonathon Trott.
Trott joins an underperforming middle order that has struggled all series. Paul Collingwood has done little since Cardiff except for a contribution in the 2nd innings at Lord’s while Ian Bell has been promoted back up the order to bat at No.3 – a position he has already failed miserably in before. The selectors must be held accountable for these risky decisions if they fail again.
Who else makes up the rest of the five man bowling unit is not yet certain. Anderson, Broad and Swann all look likely to play alongside Flintoff leaving the rest battling it out for the one spot.
It would appear to be a straight fight between Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar, there is an arguement for England to persist with Harmison in a bid for him to extract the extra bounce from the Oval surface. Monty Panesar is also in with a chance if Strauss and Flower think the pitch will take spin, Graham Onions and Ryan Sidebottom look likely to not be needed which would be very harsh on Onions who has had a decent series.
Australia look likely to stick with the four man pace attack. Just who the fourth man is seems to be the debate at the moment. Brett Lee looked fit again in last weekends 2 day match at Canterbury and is under consideration after both coach Tim Nielsen and captain Ricky Ponting said they expect the ball to ‘reverse swing’ at The Oval.
The fact that Brett Lee is the Australians main exponent in the art of reverse swing gives him a chance of making the starting XI. That would be harsh on Stuart Clark who performed so well at Headingley and it is arguable that it was his spell just before lunch that really swung the session and whole test match – if not series – in Australia’s favour. To drop the man who could yet have retained the Ashes for the Aussies would be a very tough call.
The likelyhood of an all out seem attack will mean no return for Nathan Hauritz either. Hauritz has impressed on the tour in the first three tests after been accused of being the weak link in the Aussie line up, he has been working with Saqlain Mushtaq in the build up this week trying to hone his skills in an attempt to convince the Aussie management he is worth a recall.
The batting has been Australia’s main strenght so far and it picks itself meaning no return for young opener Phil Hughes, his time will surely come sometime soon though.
5th Test Betting
Australia are favourites at 11/8 with William Hill
The Draw is 8/5 with Stan James and Sky Bet
England are 4/1 with Betfred and Boylesports