First came the assurance that the Ashes was firmly in hand after a crucial draw in the third test, then came the icing on the cake after a win in the fourth and now, in a dead rubber-esque fifth, England will look to add a cherry on top to complete their revelry. The turnaround that Stuart Broad wrought about in the fourth test has yet again boosted the English hopes of notching a whitewash over the hapless Australians after their surprisingly mediocre performance in the third test.
In spite of the clear advantage to the hosts, the Australians aren’t without possibilities either. The closeness of the manner of their defeat at Durham and the ill-fated draw at Manchester should be a soothing salve to the Australians facing extremely harsher prognostications at the start of the series. Considering that the return leg of the series isn’t that far, the entire Australian contingent would be pleased to account for a substantial – if not exactly successful – comeback after losing the opening two tests.
It’s in this thriving gamut of possibilities that the differentiation between the two teams emerges. Where the Australians will opt for the best team composition to ensure themselves of a win in the final test; unexpected injury woes for Bresnan means that England will have no choice but to make changes to their winning team composition. Steven Finn who was unceremoniously cast aside after his nondescript display in the first test finds himself recalled along with uncapped Lancashire leggie Simon Kerrigan and all-rounder Chris Woakes. On the eve of the start of the test, one can only wait for the English team to unveil its final playing XI though by all accounts, it’s hardly likely that the English team management would want to jostle around the team much, in spite of all the alterations required.
But while the English bowling doesn’t seem to be hampered at all, the batting is indeed a slight concern. Apart from Ian Bell who’s been quite steadily shoring up the English run-count no other batsman has provided England the thrust to account for a huge total. While Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen have come up with good, solid cameos at different stages in each of the four tests, lack of partnerships and contributions by players like Jonathan Trott, Johny Bairstow and Matt Prior has impacted the English chances even though they have gone on to retain the Ashes quite comfortably.
If Ian Bell has emerged to be the stand-out player amongst the English ranks, then a similar order of merit can be awarded to Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris in the Aussie huddle. Both these guys have lifted the Aussie morale, going on to give the team a new vigour from the insipidness that plagued it in the initial two tests. Amidst the continued misery of some of the more experienced players in the Australian ranks, the contributions of these two guys has enabled Australia to continue on its English tour without any compromises to its dignity. On the eve of the start of the final test, it would be on these two guys that the Australian coach would be pinning his hopes on, alongside contributions from the likes of Clarke, Watson, Warner and Smith. Bowlers hold considerable sway for the Australians especially Lyon, Siddle and even Watson to a greater extent.
The biggest worry for Australia would however be the fact that the team’s excellence is in bits and pieces and not all at the same time. Players like Phil Hughes have continued to disappoint which further compounds the selection aspect for Australia, already reeling under a distinctive lack of choices. The momentum thus rests largely in the English side with a veritable pick of players and the consummate mastery with which they have held the Australians in a choke-hold.
Match Prediction: England win the match and the series 4-0.