A wonderful summer for Ben Stokes. A magical Ashes for Steve Smith. With the 2019 World Cup and Test cricket’s greatest rivalry played out in succession, the last four months have been nothing short of a cricket carnival. England were crowned ODI World Champions, while Australia did the unimaginable. They retained the Ashes on English soil after 18 long years.
None of Australia’s past legends were able to achieve what Tim Paine did in the fourth Test at Old Trafford. Perhaps, none of those captains had the force of a batsman so strong, he could outplay the opposition all by himself. Smith batted and batted, and all England could do was stare at him haplessly. When they couldn’t get him out, they got him to skip a Test. Yet, there he was, standing tall in Manchester doing the double.
Both teams clash for one last time in the fifth and final Ashes Test on Thursday. England would like to level the series, while the visitors are clearly looking for more.
England vs Australia, 5th Test, 12th September
The Oval, London (03:30 PM IST)
Played – 350
England wins – 109
Australia wins -146
Drawn – 95
James Anderson’s exit was already a huge blow for England. Still, they went on to dominate the third Test at Headingley courtesy Stokes’ blazing hundred and kept the series alive at 1-1. But that was probably the only silver lining of what has been a disappointing period of Test cricket for them. England tried a few experiments to combat their downfall but nothing worked out in the end. Jason Roy’s troubles in Test cricket continued, irrespective of his batting position. Jofra Archer steamed in but has had his pace dropped as he progressed.
Craig Overton replaced Chris Woakes in the last Test but even that didn’t bear fruit. Captain Joe Root has had much difficulty managing captaincy alongside batting at No.3, and his own form has taken a huge hit because of it. The biggest of all, England have dismissed Smith just once in the entire series so far. A question they still haven’t found the right answers to. With Australia having already retained the Ashes, England have decided to draft in all-rounders Chris Woakes and Sam Curran to lend better balance to the side. Jason Roy who has struggled so far in his short Test career has been left out. Overton, despite his exploits in Manchester, misses out as well.
Australia had their own share of problems though. Their destructive opener David Warner ran out of gas pretty early in the series. They even dropped an underperforming Usman Khawaja in the last Test. Their DRS calls were some of the worst ever in history. But the one thing that worked in their favour apart from Smith’s monstrous batting and Marnus Labuschagne’s impressive show was their pace bowling unit.
The Australian management brilliantly rotated their pacers, so much so that their ace bowler Mitchell Starc didn’t play until the fourth Test. In his absence, Pat Cummins stood out exceptionally alongside Josh Hazlewood. The duo brought a barrage of beautiful seam bowling to the game that pushed England on the back foot in their own den. Nathan Lyon, as always, remains their dark horse in the spin department.
It is likely that Australia will go for another rotation in the fast bowling unit, which means Pat Cummins could sit out. Travis Head has also been replaced by Mitchell Marsh, giving Australia a genuine all-round option.
David Warner (Australia): After successful returning to international cricket with the World Cup, David Warner appeared to be completely out of sorts in the Ashes. He’s now been dismissed six times in the series by England’s Stuart Broad, something the Aussie opener wouldn’t be proud of. With three ducks and a single fifty, the southpaw will be hoping to finish the tournament with a bang.
Jofra Archer (England): With 16 wickets, Jofra Archer is England’s second-highest wicket-taker in the series so far. His confrontation with Steve Smith that led to the latter’s concussion quickly became a point of discussion. England rely heavily on his brutal pace and steamy bouncers that got Australian batsmen ducking and falling. Once again, all eyes will be on Archer as he reignites the fire within him.
England: R Burns, J Denly, J Root (c), B Stokes, J Bairstow (wk), J Buttler, C Woakes, S Curran, J Archer, S Broad, J Leach.
Australia: D Warner, M Harris, M Labuschagne, S Smith, M Wade, M Marsh, T Paine (c & wk), P Cummins/J Pattinson, M Starc, J Hazlewood, N Lyon.