Thirteen blistering days of unbelievable cricket is all it has taken for England to wrestle back those precious Ashes from their most fierce of rivals. Australia have had a summer that they would prefer be quickly forgotten and banished to annuls of cricketing history.
Having so passively surrendered The Ashes back to England, skipper Michael Clarke has announced his retirement after the last test, as has Chris Rogers as Australia’s disastrous tour takes on shades of the English debacle down under not so long ago.
Now, there is but one test remaining. England will be looking to hammer home another win and complete the humiliation, while Australia will be seeking a consolation win to, at the very least, add some light to the end of this very long, dark tunnel they have been trudging down all summer.
If the rest of the series is anything to go by, the test at The Oval has no chance of lasting the full five days, but from the perspective of a cricket lover, a five day test would not go amiss at all. Australian fans will simply be looking for their side to show a bit more gusto and fight as they seek to redeem some of their wrecked pride.
However, that should not be a worry for the Aussies. The fact that this will be Michael Clarke’s final test is all the motivation they need. Sending their esteemed captain out on the highest point possible will be at the forefront of their thinking and concentration. Michael Clarke is a man who detests losing, especially when playing for his beloved country, he takes each and every loss so personally, he understands the expectation placed upon him by his country and is crestfallen when he falls below those expectations. He looked a broken man after the fourth test at Trent Bridge and there will undoubtedly be a burning desire blazing within his heart and within the hearts of his team-mates to get one back over the English at The Oval.
This last test is being widely regarded as the end of an era for Australian cricket, with the likes of Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne stating that as many as seven or eight of the current squad may end up never donning the Baggy Green again in their careers. They have already announced their new captain, with Steven Smith the man chosen to take up the mantle. All this uncertainty may well cause unwelcome distraction among the Australian camp in the build up to the final test, only making it harder to really concentrate on the task at hand.
Expect changes in the Australian eleven. Michael Clarke will play, that goes without saying, but nothing is set in stone for many of the rest of the playing staff. Shaun Marsh did cover himself in glory after being given his opportunity in the middle order, his brother, Mitchell Marsh, has been underwhelming but is likely to regain his place in a team desperate for an all-rounder, while Adam Voges has not set the series alight by any means. It could be a very different Australia that take to the field on Thursday morning.
England on the other hand are absolutely going to stick to their winning formula that has brought them so much joy over the last couple of weeks. The only expected change is the inclusion of bowling spearhead James Anderson, returning from the side strain he picked up at Edgbaston that ruled him out of the Trent Bridge affair. Mark Wood is the only logical choice to make way as he is struggling with an ankle injury himself. Having acquitted himself well with nine wickets in his three appearances, Wood has grounds to consider himself unlucky if Anderson does prove his fitness and pushes him out of the side, however, Wood is wise enough to understand that competing for a place with Anderson in an Ashes series, is a contest that can and will only go one way.
Alistair Cook and his men will be looking to close out a record Ashes win by taking the 5th test and will harbour little sympathy for the departing Michael Clarke, knowing all too well that if Australia were in the same position, as they were in 2013/14, they too would look to be ruthless. Even with the series wrapped up and the champagne on ice, Cook will want nothing less from his boys than their absolute best, as they look to avenge their five nil drubbing at the hands of this same Australian side. If Joe Root and Stuart Broad can continue on with the momentum and sparkling form they have already shown so far, then Australia’s task will be an awfully tricky one.
The last time these two sides met at The Oval, the match was largely rain affected, before a final day blitz and declaration by Australia breathed life into a seemingly doomed game. It ultimately finished in a draw, as England failed to hunt down the target of 226, falling short by only twenty runs as the failing light bought an end to proceedings. If the final test is anything like that final day, then we are in for a real treat.
Thus far, this year’s Ashes has been a spectacle that you would not necessarily consider competitive, and the cricket loving public of the world are screaming for a thriller in London to end it all off.
The Barmy Army will be in fine voice, keen to remind Australia of the predicament they find themselves in.
All twenty two players that take the field on Thursday will be unwilling to yield, with their own unflappable reasoning behind wanting to win, and that could be the recipe for what we have all been waiting for, a game worthy of comparison with 2005 is on the cards, as England look to drive home their advantage, and Australia seek to send their masterful skipper out with a bang.
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