The Manchester Test could not have been scripted better by Australia. Steve Smith was back to torment the English bowlers and with some help from Labuschagne and the rest of the middle order Australia thwarted England bouncer plan to hand the latter a heavy defeat. With that win, Australia has retained the Ashes but again there is still a lot to play in the final Test.
Even though the Ashes is lost for England the series can still be saved with a win at the Kennington Oval. England’s struggle with both bat and ball continued in Manchester and their bouncer strategy fell flat as Australia countered the same brilliantly. The positive for England obviously was the batting of Joe Denly in the second innings after being asked to open.
England hasn’t made any changes to their squad for the final Test and is most likely to field the same XI. The England squad does not have too much room for change in the squad but they might bring in Sam Curran for Jason Roy to strengthen their bowling attack as Ben Stokes might not be able to bowl. Jos Buttler despite having a horrible series might still make it to the XI.
Australia though brought in Mitchell Starc for the Manchester Test and he made his presence felt immediately. He not only took some crucial wickets in both the innings but also scored that important fifty in the first innings to get his team closer to 500. The Australian team does look settled at the moment even though the opening combination is still a concern. Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood were brilliant with the ball again, the bowling attack is not expected to see any changes for the fifth Test.
Steve Smith (Australia): Steven Smith has been the rock for Australia in the Ashes so far. In just 3 Tests he has already scored 671 runs at an incredible average of 134.2 and with three hundred. He will once again be the priced wicket in the Australian top order. He along with Marnus Labuschagne will be the key for Australian batting.
Josh Hazlewood (Australia): After having an ordinary home season with the ball Hazlewood found himself dropped for the first Test of this Ashes series. He did make a comeback in the second Test and since then has picked up 18 wickets at 16.88 in just 3 Tests. He has been brilliant with the new ball and has most often struck at the start. He will once again be crucial for Australian in the fifth Test.
Ben Stokes (England): Ben Stokes has been England’s best batter this series. He has 354 runs at an average of 59 so far with the bat and has been the most consistent performer in a struggling batting line up. For the final Test though due to his shoulder injury, he will just play as a batter and will once again be very important for the hosts if they want to challenge Australian and draw the series.
Stuart Broad (England): While all the focus has been on Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad has quietly accumulated 19 wickets in four Tests in this series. He has bowled brilliantly and was Englands best bowler in the Manchester Test. His experience in the absence of Anderson will be very important for the hosts when they try to turn around their disappointing loss in the fourth Test.
What Did They Say?
“Even like last year – I thought they were good pitches here against India. I thought they weren’t green seamers but I thought they suited us more than India. We as a country or cricket team, cricket board, don’t use home advantage enough. As I said when you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team.” Lamented James Anderson about the hosts not using their home advantage enough.
“Joe Root said before the series, there’s going to be some fatigue in both camps after the World Cup. Now we’re in the last week of a four-and-a-half month stint, there’s certainly some fatigue there – mental and physical. So we’ll weigh that up over the next two days, to see if those guys play or not.” Said Justin Langer, suggesting there might be some changes to the bowling combination
Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschange, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins/Peter Siddle/James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
The Ashes might be gone but both the teams have a lot to play for in the final Test. The Test Championship points are up for grabs and for the hosts leveling the series would be of the highest priority. For Australia, though a win at the Kennington Oval would give them their first series win in England since 2001 which will be on their minds as that would be the icing on the cake for the visitors.