England have already wrapped up the Ashes series and regained the precious urn. But there’s still one match left, and both sides will be eager to walk away from the Oval with a victory. Here are five points of discussion leading into Thursday’s contest.
First Michael Clarke, then Chris Rogers, and probably a couple of others. For Clarke it’s been illustrious, for Rogers it’s been brief, but both will want to finish their Test careers on a high at the Oval. England are looking to win four Ashes Tests in a home series for the first time in their history, and the Australian players – whether it be the outgoing Clarke or the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner aiming to drive a new era forward – will do everything they can to stop that from happening. Clarke will want to end his career as he started it – with a century. More importantly, he will hope that will lead them to a victory and walk away on a winning note.
CAN ENGLAND FINISH STRONG?
England will want to make it 4-1 just as much as Australia want to make it 3-2, which makes for a great contest. If James Anderson is fit, his selection will go a long way towards displaying their hunger and desire to end on a winning note. ‘We want to capitalise on all this good cricket we’re playing. To walk away with a 4-1 win after getting written off at the start of the series would be great,’ said the clearly motivated Ben Stokes leading up to it.
SMITH’S REIGN STARTS NOW
Clarke might be the captain for this Test, but it will of course be his last before Smith steps in, and it would be pointless not to take it on in an unofficial capacity in this match. Smith won’t just want to lay down the markers as Australia’s new captain in this Test, he will be desperate to finish the series with a bit of form under his belt too. He was captain of the side when the Aussies beat India, and it was a successful one as he scored a century in each Test. Clarke’s average is also significantly better as skipper, and Smith will hope that his form in this series, bar his double hundred, will return, as the 26-year-old begins his tenure, with the unpredictable Warner doing the sidekick duties.
I can’t understand England’s persistence with Adam Lyth. He’s been brilliant for Yorkshire over the last couple of years, and when he gets going for England he looks a class act. But the problem is, he has only properly got going once, with the solitary century against New Zealand. He keeps falling in the same fashion too. Of the 11 Test innings he’s played, eight of his dismissals have been edged behind.
If he plays well in this match, are the selectors going to put his previous failings behind them and select him for the three Tests against Pakistan in the UAE? If he fails, are they going to blood a new opener for that series? With the series wrapped up, it wouldn’t have hurt to give someone else a go. Alex Hales would have been my pick. He is in fantastic domestic form and fits the new England philosophy.
In theory, this match is a dead-rubber, but England and Australia certainly won’t see it this way for the reasons mentioned above. If England win this, Australia’s woes will be compounded further with a slide down the ICC rankings. A dramatic boost up the standings has already taken place for the English, who started the series in sixth. If Australia win 3-2, then the Baggy Greens will hold on to second with England in third. They will swap places with a 4-1 win for England, and as Stokes put it, ‘another nail into Australia’s coffin’.