The scene is set for the most important moment in English cricket since the Ashes were brought home in 2005. Today, the Oval, the same setting for the climax of the legendary ’05 series, is bathed in sunshine waiting for England and Australia to do battle for that little urn once again.
The clash at the Oval tomorrow will be a winner takes all encounter, with England needing a win to take the Ashes away from their arch rivals. Australia just need a draw to retain the Ashes after having won them in 2006/07, however the typical Aussie attitude has meant that Ricky Ponting and co. are desperate to win the Ashes outright.
After the dismal showing at Headingly that saw England lose heavily, Australia will hope to take some of that momentum into the final Test. It is an overused modern day cliché, but the idea of momentum could have some founding, as Australia finished the Test at Edgbaston strongly and came out all guns blazing to dismiss England for a paultry 102 on the first morning in Leeds. It will take a monumental effort from the despondent England players to come back from such a mauling and with the momentum so heavily against them.
For once going into an Ashes Test match this summer, all of the selection dilemmas have surrounded England. Australia have had a relatively smooth build up, crushing the England Lions in Canterbury and welcoming Brett Lee back to full fitness. The only slight worry is the fitness of their wicket keepers, Brad Haddin and Graham Manou. Both have suffered hand injuries throughout the tour but are both expected to be fit if and when called upon at the Oval. Although, Tim Paine has been flown to England a few days early in the very unlikely event that both were to be struck down.
Tim Nielsen has given every, albeit perhaps false, hope to Brett Lee about his chances of selection for the last Test match. Lee impressed with pace and swing in the two warm up games that he has been able to play on this tour and Nielsen has stated that he will be in contention for selection if the conditions suit his style of bowling. With the pitch at the Oval likely to be full of pace and very dry, it may be a stroke of genius to bring in Lee for this game to utilize his extreme pace and ability to reverse swing the ball. However, with Stuart Clark already looking set to unluckily lose his place to give Nathan Hauritz a chance to cause havoc with his off spin, it is difficult to see how Brett Lee could fit into an already firing bowling unit.
England have been the complete mirror image of Australia’s calm progression down to London with so much speculation over team selection no doubt causing the selection committee some severe headaches.
In a complete show of desperation, it seemed like England were regressing a decade or so with names such as the retired Marcus Trescothick and the geriatric Mark Ramprakash being thrown about in the selection mix. Luckily, Geoff Miller and friends saw sense, partially at least, and stuck by Jonathan Trott to replace Ravi Bopara. All these claims can have done nothing except give Australia a mental edge over England, knowing that their opposition have been in complete disarray.
Another addition to the squad for this match is left arm spinner Monty Panesar. In the media he has pleaded with Andrew Strauss to pick him in the starting eleven, stating that he could be his ‘secret weapon’. Judging by the fact that he has indeed played in the series already and his very public loss of form, Monty’s bowling will be as much of a secret as the contents of Justin Langer’s inbox.
Steve Harmison’s claims to be included in the team have also been boosted with his supporters, diminishing by the second, believing that the apparent pace and bounce of the Oval pitch could turn Harmison back into the ferocious world beater that he was so many years ago. Graham Onions could count himself so unlucky if this was the case as he is the most likely candidate to give way. Onions has performed as well as any of the bowlers in this series and to have to give up his place to the scatter gun bowling of Harmison may be the biggest risk that England will take.
Another risk for England is the fact that they have a debutant batting at the crucial position of number five. For all his South African swagger, Trott will be nervous beyond belief when he walks out to bat, and the Aussies are so adept at mentally breaking down even the best of players, Trott will be subject to a barrage of suggestions that he is not up to the task. But, he has the faith of the selectors and, to be honest, he can do no worse than the hapless Ravi Bopara.
Twenty days of cricket have been played, but it all comes down to the five days that are about to commence. The little urn’s future home is in the balance with both teams desperately wanting to lay their hands on it, but we won’t have to wait for long to determine the home as the Test match tomorrow could prove to be one of the best matches in history.
© Cricket World 2009