Tonight is the night that some Australian cricket fans have been praying would come quickly since the disaster that was the Lords Test match: the start of the last test match of the Ashes series. To say that it has largely been a tour of discontent for the Australia cricket team and its fans would be an understatement. Indeed, one only needs to consider that Australia has used all but one player from its original squad and two players from outside the original squad in this series as an indicia of how well things have gone for the baggy greens.
It wouldn’t be a test match that Australia is competing in at present without there being a selection change from the last test and this premise has held true in the lead up to this test match with James Faulkner coming in for Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Starc returning, for the second time, for his third test on tour in place of Jackson Bird. Shane Watson will bat at 3 and Brad Haddin at 6 in another realignment to the top order for Australia.
As an Australian fan I come into this game with the most limited of expectations to be honest. More changes, including one weakening the batting lineup, could not fill Australian fans with any resembling confidence. Equally, the Australian team will be desperate to avoid a 4-0 result and Darren Lehmann will have given them a rev up that would have metaphorically torn the paint from the walls of the dressing room in Chester-le-Street after the capitulation of the batting order there.
On the other hand the English team will come into this game on high after Stuart Broad’s excellent performance with the ball lead them to victory last time out. They have been forced to make two changes to their squad, albeit only one from the starting lineup, with Bresnan and Onions out hurt and Woakes and Kerrigan into the squad of 14. There is some thought that Kerrigan might play and bowl in tandem with Graeme Swann but a decision on that has yet to be made by the English hierarchy.
It is striking that for Australia there are careers on the line, coupled with those that have already been ended it would seem by this tour (Cowan and Khawaja), with a poor performance from the likes of Watson and Smith likely to find themselves on the outer if they perform badly here. At the same time England have no such problems though they will be looking to their young charges in Bairstow and Root (his 180 aside) to lift their performances in order to secure their positions for the summer tour to Australia.
There are also some massive risks arising for Australia out of a game that really is a dead rubber. Ryan Harris plays his 4th test match in a row for the first time in his career and given his history of injuries he will be watched closely by fans of both teams for any sign of a limp. Peter Siddle also looked completely spent at the end of the 4th test so I am hoping he is had sufficient time to refresh physically and mentally for this game. It would be final nail in the coffin of a tour of discontent for one of Australia’s two key strike bowlers for the return series to suffer a long term injury in this test match. There are also similar risks for England in playing Jimmy Anderson in this test match as he has not looked the bowler he was at Trent Bridge since that test match and seems down on enthusiasm as well as form.
It goes without saying that the umpiring in this series has been woeful at best and there is a real possibility that an umpiring drama at some point will arise. Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena are the men in the middle for this game whilst the woefully out of form Tony Hill is in the TV hot seat. Roshan Mahanama will referee his 45th test match here whilst Richard Kettleborough is the 4th umpire.
The toss of the coin will be vital: particularly for England who will be desperate to bowl last and unleash Graeme Swann on a worn wicket against an Australian batting lineup replete with batsman all at sea so far when facing his bowling. It goes without saying that whichever captain wins the toss, he will bat first.
Shane Watson: Is there are more maligned representative of Australia in any sport at the moment than Shane Watson? I do not wish to troll over that old ground however, suffice it say, he has the opportunity in this game to again prove his doubters wrong. He has moved back up to the engine room of the order to bat at number 3 and one would expect that he will have the pressure off him to bowl a significant number of overs given the selection of Faulkner. If Watson scores runs at the Oval, Australia will score 300 plus for only the second time on the tour and put themselves in a good position to push for victory.
Jonathon Trott: If you had have told me at the start of this series that by the end of the fourth test match Jonathan Trott would have only scored 194 runs so far I would have been asking you to check your medication! Trott has been in the middle for almost all of England’s excellent results since he debuted at this same ground against this same opponent in the final test of the 2009 Ashes. He scored a hundred on debut in that game and given his drought so far with the willow it would surprise me not if he scored one here for England. He is a class player and is certainly due. Of course, when he scores runs the statistics show that England generally win so if he finally puts his mark on the series here that will bode well for them.
Prediction: Head says England because I just don’t think Australia has selected a balanced lineup here given that batting has been the weakness all series and the selectors have weakened rather than strengthened that aspect of the team. Heart and every other fibre of my being wants to see Australia win. I fear though that this is going to be another very tough test match for Australia fans.
Play commences in a little under 3 hours.