With Australia 2-1 ahead with 1 test to play, Australia cannot lose the series, though they can still draw it. A drawn series means that Australia retain the Ashes, as they won the previous Ashes series in Australia, but Australia still ideally want to win the series. A drawn test means Australia win the series, but why not aim for a win in the test and a triumphant 3-1 series win? For England, all they can hope for is to save face. A win in the 5th and final test gives them a drawn series 2-2 and some kind of pride retained.
It has been an exciting series, punctuated with Ben Stokes winning England the 3rd test from absolutely nowhere, in spite of Nathan Lyon fumbling a runout a chance which should have given Australia a 1-run win, and then, next ball, having Stokes out plumb LBW but not given and no reviews left. However, save the Stokes special, it has all been Steve Smith, his 142 and 144 in the 1st test the difference between a big England win and Australia win fairly comfortably. His lowest score this series has been 82 and the best thing England managed to do to curtail his power was when Jofra Archer hit him on the back of the neck with a bouncer and concussed him. If not for that, undoubtedly we’d be looking at 3-0 here.
England have dropped Jason Roy and Craig Overton from the squad but have refused to add anyone new, thus meaning that Sam Curran and Chris Woakes will play as all-rounders, both covering not only for Roy and Overton but also for Ben Stokes, who has an injury that means he can’t bowl, or at least very much. It shows just how highly England regard Ben Stokes that they would make such accommodations, and how little they care about this match that they aren’t just dumping Stokes as well and perhaps playing Ollie Pope, the English opener who averages almost 60 at first class level.
Joe Denly, Rory Burns, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad
Australia have made a left-field selection in picking Mitchell Marsh at the expense of someone who was doing pretty well in Travis Head. With Matthew Wade and David Warner the two most out of form players, one or both were expected to be left out, but instead it was Head. This highlights that Australia aren’t taking this particularly seriously either. Marsh has been the most in-form player in the warm-ups, at least of those who have not played the tests, so it is a decent decision to include him. The problem is who is being left out. I thought that there was scope to also give a test to Michael Neser, especially in a dead rubber. Perhaps Wade and Warner could both have been left out for Marsh and Neser, and given Khawaja a chance opening, perhaps instead of a bowler. But none of that was in the selectors’ thoughts. Peter Siddle also wanted to play, and still might if Australia decide to leave someone else out, with perhaps Starc being left out. Australia could have been more experimental than this.
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon
Probable 12th man: Peter Siddle
Five Fearless Predictions:
(1) Another match, another Smith century
I predicted two centuries last test and I was right in a sense as he got a double. This time around I am picking just one century, as I feel like he is on the way down, ever so slightly.
(2) Marnus Labuschagne to go big and get a century
A century for Labuschagne seems like suitable reward for a fantastic return to the test team.
(3) David Warner to get a century
He’s getting low scores but still looks good and surely, surely this time he comes good.
(4) England look all over the place
The mental scars will show as England look set to lose the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001. Arguably they should have lost in 2005 too but for an umpiring error, but they have an umpiring error this season gift them a match too and still they look like losing. This is bound to hurt them more now that the series is lost.
(5) Australia will win
I am tempted to predict an innings victory, but perhaps not quite that. It looks like it will be very one-sided, though.