The Ashes series Down Under is heading towards its conclusion with the fifth and final Test which is set to get underway at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.
Hosts Australia have already regained the famous urn from England after flying away to a 3-0 lead in the opening three Tests. The tourists, however, gave a good account of themselves in the rain-affected fourth Test at Melbourne which was ultimately drawn.
All attention now turns to Sydney as we enter the New Year. We look the at key talking points ahead of the final Test of a series which has been littered with some brilliant individual displays, mostly by players in an Australian shirt, as well as its fair share of controversies.
MASON CRANE TO MAKE ENGLAND DEBUT
The 20-year-old is set to make history for the tourists by becoming the first specialist spinner to play for England at the SCG in 90 years.
The leg-spinner has been a part of the touring party for England since the beginning of the series though his inclusion was largely seen as a way to integrate him into the setup for the future.
Crane would not really have expected to get a Test in his first ever tour but a side-strain to all-rounder Chris Woakes means that the Hampshire spinner is all set to make his England and Ashes debut at the historic cricket ground.
The young leg-spinner is set to make history for England at Sydney.
MITCHELL STARC RETURNS FOR AUSTRALIA
The Australian pace spearhead had to miss out on the Melbourne Test due a bruising in his heel which provided an opportunity for Jackson Bird.
Starc though, has fully recovered and has been included in the hosts’ playing XI for the SCG Test with Bird making way. Despite missing a game, the southpaw is the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes series with 19 scalps to his name and his return will prove to be a big boost for Steve Smith and his men as they look to begin 2018 on a high.
Starc has fully recovered and is raring to go.
ASHTON AGAR MISSES OUT
With Starc returning to the playing XI, spinner Ashton Agar is set to miss out. With Sydney traditionally bringing spinners into play, the hosts had contemplated playing Agar as the second fiddle to Nathan Lyon.
However, the left-armer is now unfortunately going to miss out after Smith highlighted the extra grass on the Sydney pitch which should aid the fast bowlers.
Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Lyon are expected to form Australia’s bowling attack on Thursday with Mitchell Marsh providing the option for the fifth bowler.
Starc’s return means Agar’s hopes of playing in Sydney are all but dead.
MOEEN ALI TO KEEP HIS PLACE
The England all-rounder has had disastrous Ashes so far in what has been an Australian summer to forget for him. Moeen’s horrendous form with both bat and ball has led to many former players and pundits calling for the Englishman to be dropped.
Despite this, the all-rounder has played all four Tests so far in the tour in the absence of any viable alternatives in the spin-department. He has scored only 136 runs in seven innings Down Under while picking up just three wickets at a dismal average of 135.
With Sydney’s penchant of aiding slow bowlers, England are all set to retain Moeen in the squad with Crane joining him as the second spinner.
Ali is set to partner Crane in the spin-department for England.
ENGLAND AIM TO END ASHES ON HIGH
After being blown away in the opening three Tests, Joe Root’s men did show some fight in the Melbourne Test, led by a record unbeaten double-ton by their stalwart Alastair Cook.
In a series where their dismal performances have been overshadowed by off-field alcohol-related debacles, England really need find a silver lining at Sydney.
They will take comfort from the fact the city has been traditionally their best hunting ground in Australia. Of the 55 Ashes Tests held at the famous ground, Australia have won 26 while England have come out on top 22 times.
The tourists did manage to avoid a second successive 5-0 Ashes washout Down Under but if they could make this 3-1, they will go home with something to finally smile about amidst the despair and gloom which currently surrounds the side.
Root will be hoping to have something to smile about at the end of the Ashes.