A near four-month stay in England is about to draw to an end for many Australia players as the two arch-rivals prepare to lock horns in the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Oval beginning on Thursday.
The visitors have already managed to retain the urn after their 185-run win at Old Trafford in the fourth Test but they are still eyeing an outright series win for the first time on English soil since 2001.
England, on the other hand, are looking to level the series and restore some pride after their Manchester defeat. There is also the added matter of 24 vital ICC World Test Championship points on offer for both sides.
As the two old foes prepare for one final battle at London, we look at three key duels which could prove to be decisive.
Joe Root v Josh Hazlewood
The England skipper has been one of the better batsmen for his side in the series with three half-centuries but an equal number of ducks besides his name has meant that consistency has eluded him.
Root’s has paled in comparison to his ‘Fab Four’ rival Steve Smith who has racked up 671 runs in five innings and the Englishman will be under pressure to deliver at the Oval with question marks surrounding his captaincy.
Root, however, will not have it easy against Josh Hazlewood who has been a real difference maker for Australia since coming into the playing XI for the second Test. The seamer has claimed 18 wickets in just three Tests this series with a remarkable average of 16.88, and his immaculate lines and lengths have been a terror to deal with for the English batsmen.
Hazlewood has had Root’s number three times already in the series and will be looking to continue that domination at the Oval.
Stuart Broad v David Warner
This one looks like a no-contest after a completely one-sided domination by Stuart Broad. The England pacer has been all over Warner like a rash this summer and has dismissed him a staggering six times in eight innings.
Warner, in return, has been able to score just the 32 runs against the Englishman and has found no answer at all despite repeatedly getting out in the same fashion. Broad has worked the Aussie opener over with his ability to seam the ball both ways from around off-stump with Warner either falling lbw to the incoming delivery or feathering an edge to the slip cordon to the one that goes away.
Warner will be afforded one final chance to get back at Broad, with Justin Langer continuing to back the misfiring opener, and he will be determined to have the last laugh in what has been a completely lopsided battle so far.
Jack Leach v Steve Smith
Pictures of Steve Smith supposedly mocking Jack Leach by wearing a pear of glasses to celebrate Australia’s win in the fourth Test have whipped up quite the storm on social media in England.
The Australian team management has swiftly denied those accusations by stating that Smith was simply giving a nod to former opening batsman Chris Rogers. While the controversy is nothing but a storm in a teacup, the battle between the two players across the 22 yards at the Oval could prove to be an interesting one.
Statistically, Smith’s least-favourite bowlers to face are left-armed spinners and Leach did give him some troubles at Old Trafford before he went on to notch a double ton. Unfortunately for the England spinner, he committed the cardinal sin of overstepping when he had Smith caught at first slip and that proved to be a costly mistake with the Aussie making England pay.
Leach might still be England’s best bet to trouble Smith at the Oval given the ease with which the Aussie batsman dealt with Jofra Archer in the last Test.
Australian head coach Justin Langer has denied Steve Smith was mocking Jack Leach after their fourth Test victory which saw the team retain the Ashes— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) September 10, 2019
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