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.
Australia captain Tim Paine said the recall of all-rounder Mitchell Marsh in the side to face England at the Oval is a bid to look after his fast bowlers.
Paine revealed on the eve of the fifth Ashes Test that Marsh will take Travis Head’s place.
“They bowled a lot of overs and had a big workload on them,” Paine said on Wednesday.
“We want to be able to look after our fast bowlers. Mitchell Marsh had a couple of hundreds so he can do a job with the bat as well.
“We spoke a lot about needing to pick our attacks in England. We are going to have them fresh and ready to go for the home summer.
“The reason Travis is not playing is because we feel we need a bit of extra bowling at the end of the series and Mitch is an all-rounder.
“Travis has had a fantastic start but we want to get the make up right to win this Test match and we have to make a tough call on someone.”
FIFTH TEST -- Australia's squad:— Cricbuzz (@cricbuzz) September 11, 2019
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c & wk), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Siddle.
OUT: Travis Head
IN: Mitchell Marsh#ENGvAUS #Ashes
Paine is “very hungry” to finish this Ashes series in England with another comprehensive victory.
“We have spoken a lot about it. We came here to win the Ashes, not just to retain it,” Paine said.
“Last week’s result was brilliant. We played very well. This Test is bigger than the last one. This is our grand final.”
When asked if he took pleasure from England captain Joe Root being put under pressure for his place, Paine added: “Not really, it has no effect on us.
“A week is a long time in cricket. Joe Root is a fantastic cricketer and I don’t get sometimes why he’s under so much scrutiny.
“We know how good he is and he will come hard and be looking to bounce back this week.”
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England have dropped Jason Roy for the fifth Ashes Test against Australia.
The one-day star has failed to impress in the first four matches of the series, either as an opener or when he dropped down the order last time out at Old Trafford, where he made a top score of 31.
Craig Overton has also been left out for the clash at the Oval, with Sam Curran and Chris Woakes, who made way for Overton at Old Trafford, taking their places.
The England and Wales cricket Board also confirmed Ben Stokes would not bowl in the match, which gets under way on Thursday, due to a shoulder injury, and will play as a specialist batsman.
England need a victory at the Oval to draw the series, although Australia have already retained the Ashes.
Root said that Roy had missed out due to Stokes’ injury, which meant the side needed re-balancing.
“It’s always tough to leave guys out, but Stokesy obviously picked up a shoulder injury in the last game and won’t be able to bowl the overs we normally expect him to,” Root said at a press conference.
“With that we’ve had to change the balance of the side, and Jason’s the unfortunate one to miss out.
“Jason’s had an opportunity to come in and play Test cricket, get a feel for it and it’s not quite gone how he would have liked.
“But I’m sure he’ll go away and work extremely hard and come back again.
“That’s what you expect of guys when they get left out and I’m sure he’ll have that attitude and will want to try and prove a point and get himself back into the side.”
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