I am always reluctant to get involved in dead rubbers and after having mopped up in the last 2 tests we have no intention of giving back our profits. However this game is a bit different. England have an opportunity to rub the Australian noses in “it” and they don’t get many opportunities to do that. In fact no Ashes series in the UK has ever been won 4-1 by the home team. Conversely a team fighting for its pride and existence has some chance of going back through the front doors to Australian if they win, rather than sneaking round the back if they get beaten again. Don’t underestimate the Australian motivation for this game. So we have too highly motivated teams and that should make for great cricket. If it starts going wrong for England their need to fight will become less and that may tell us enough to get a position for trading during the game.
Anderson doesn’t play again and whilst that is disappointing I do think this wicket will really suit Wood, his replacement, although spinners have always done well with the extra bounce at The Oval and I so hoped they would play Rashid. Australia have got rid of Hazelwood and replaced him with Pat Cummins, that seems harsh on Hazelwood as this wicket will suit bowlers with height and pace. Australian appear to have made their change to the bit that was working OK – their bowling. It’s their batting that has been the problem, although I suspect that may change
Now to the wicket. The covers have been on, the temperature is humid and they tell me its green and hard underneath. This is where all opening batsmen are willing their captains to do just one thing right – and win the toss. If the wicket lives up to its pre-publicity then despite Don Bradman saying 99 times out of 100 you win the toss and bat and on the 100th time you think seriously about bowling and then bat anyway, I suspect you could sell the rights to bowl first in this test for far more than Kia paid to rename the South London venue, maybe even more than the combined amount that Middle Eastern Airlines have paid cumulatively to rename the Stadia of the entirety of Europe, all though that’s going some.
The great thing is that yet again its going to be all about the first hour, as it should be in a Test. Its not that things have changed in this series its simply that opening batsmen no longer have the same mindset about their trade. The proliferation of one day and T20 cricket has meant batsmen are simply playing at far more balls then they need to. At 80 mph plus, delivered from about 7 foot 5 the percentage of balls that will actually hit the stumps is minute and in the old days of the Boycott and Edrich era they and others like them simply didn’t play at any ball that wasn’t going to hit them or their stumps until all the “devilment” had disappeared from both the wicket and the ball. Then they cashed in. Not so Warner, Cook etc. They are always looking to score and for that reason, with very good bowlers, which they are, we get these frenetic first sessions. I expect no different in this test.
That makes the toss crucial. However as I write this I don’t have the benefit of that knowledge so I am going to make a stand and go with Australia. This wicket should suit their bowlers and oddly, their batters, better than ours. Its more like home and Steve Smith will be able to stand back and let the ball bounce, which is what he needs to succeed.For England to succeed their bowlers have to resist the temptation to get the ball bouncing from short of a length. Australians can play short pitched bowling, pitch it up lads. Lets hope Australia don’t suddenly decide, having all series not got forward as much as they should have, to try and rectify that today. If they do they just might get a few up their nose. This is the test to let the ball bounce and it just might prove ideal for the underdogs, yet again in what has been a simply absorbing series that isn’t going to peter out this morning