Australia might have already retained the Ashes urn but the stakes will be as high as ever when they take on hosts England in the fifth and final Test at the Oval which gets under way on Thursday.
A vital 24 points in the ICC World Test Championship will be on offer for both teams at London apart from the usual bragging rights as an extensive summer of international cricket in England veers towards its conclusion.
A chance to level the series is still up for grabs for England who trail 2-1 in the five-match series.
Unchanged hosts sweat on Stokes’ fitness
England have surprisingly retained the squad that went down by 185 runs in the fourth Test at Manchester but they are sweating over the fitness of their star all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Stokes bowled just 10.5 overs in the first innings at Old Trafford and was not risked at all with the ball in the second innings after complaining of a shoulder injury. The England team management fear that Stokes will not be able to bowl in the final Test but they have still named him in the playing XI for the Oval as a specialist batsman.
The all-rounder has been England’s player of the series by far with tons at Lord’s and Headingley and the hosts are hoping to mitigate his bowling contributions by drafting in Sam Curran and Chris Woakes for the final Test, as Jason Roy and Craig Overton drop out.
Ben Stokes has had a bowl in the Oval nets, followed by a chat with Trevor Bayliss, now having a bat. England hoping he can play as an allrounder, otherwise there'll be a top order reshuffle #Ashes pic.twitter.com/GSCYCwwAnr— Alan Gardner (@alanroderick) September 11, 2019
Defiant Root vows to carry on
The England Test captaincy has weighed heavy on Joe Root’s head with the Yorkshire man’s batting average dipping from over 53 at one point to 48 currently.
The right-hander has still been one of England’s better batsman in the series with three half-centuries to his name, but an equal number of ducks including his first-ball dismissal in the second innings at Manchester has undone all that good work. It does not help matters that his direct competitor (Steve Smith) in the Australian side has racked up 671 runs in just five innings on the other hand.
Despite becoming the first England skipper to squander the Ashes urn on home soil since 2001, Root remains defiant and has vowed to carry on as skipper. The pressure seems to be growing on the England captain, but coach Trevor Bayliss disagrees.
“He’s not come under question from anyone making any decisions,” Bayliss said. “He’s under no pressure at all.”
Langer tells Australia batsmen to perform or perish
Smith’s sensational form in the Ashes has masked other shortcomings in the Australia batting order with several players, including opener David Warner, struggling massively for form. England pacer Stuart Broad has completely made Warner his bunny in the series with six dismissals in eight innings and the left-hander’s average has not even touched double digits.
Warner is not the only Australia batsman to suffer in the current series with Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head not pulling up any trees either. Coach Justin Langer has fired a warning to his misfiring batsmen that they must come good sooner rather than later if they are to retain a place in the Test side.
“You’ve still got to perform, as an Australian Test cricketer,” Langer said on Tuesday.
“Whether or not winning the Ashes will make a difference, time will tell, but you’ve still got to perform whether you are young or a veteran.”
Paine and Australia target outright Ashes win
While the urn has been retained for another two years for the visitors, the job is not yet done for Tim Paine who is targeting becoming the first Australia skipper to win the Ashes in England since Steve Waugh in 2001.
“We came here to win the Ashes. We didn’t come here to retain them,” Paine said ahead of the final Test.
“It’s nice that we have retained them already going into this Test match but one of the reasons we’re waiting on making a call on our team and the best make-up of it and what’s right for the players is because we see this as one of the biggest Test matches we’re going to play.
“There’s no such thing as dead rubbers and certainly against England there’s never a dead rubber. We’re up for it. We’re ready to go.”
England (confirmed): Joe Denly, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Jack Leach, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad.
Australia: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c and wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Josh Hazlewood.
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