By Akshay Ramesh: It could have been a better series finale at The Oval. Had the weather in Manchester held up and allowed England to go for the series-leveling win, London would have witnessed a cracking finish to one of the most-talked-about Ashes series in the recent past. However, England arrive at the capital city with a feeling of what could have been after conceding the Ashes Urn to Australia, who have managed to retain the coveted trophy despite not being at their best.
Ben Stokes had the opportunity to do a Don Bradman. The 1936-37 Ashes at home remains the only time a team bounced back from a 2-0 deficit to win an Ashes series and the legendary Don Bradman inspired the terrific comeback as Australia captain.
Ben Stokes described that the dressing room was ’emotionless’ and ‘flat’ after the Manchester draw. England had entered the match with high hopes of furthering their comeback story. They had dominated the game from the onset, dismissing Australia for 317 and then amassing a mammoth score of 592 within just 107.4 overs. Their dominance continued as they reduced Australia to 214-5 in their second innings. However, the weather had other plans. The final day of the Test saw no play due to incessant rain, leading to a draw and Australia retaining the Ashes.
“It was a really bizarre feeling the way the game petered out because of the weather. You sort of look back and wish maybe we either got beat or Australia managed to pull a draw off in that situation,” Stokes said.
England have entertained, no doubt. They had set out to make Test cricket more interesting and exciting and despite not Australia, retaining the Ashes, the hosts are taking pride in the way they have managed to keep the audience engaged during the series.
3-1 TO AUSTRALIA?
However, England know the importance of the series finale. A defeat in London will see their approach being questioned further and even plant seeds of doubt in the dressing room.
Australia have not won an Ashes series away from home since 2001. Despite the deflating defeat in Leeds and the lucky escape in Manchester, Pat Cummins and his side will be hopeful of making use of the pressure that is on England ahead of the series finale.
“If we win this one and you look back, it’s been an incredible tour over here really. We’ve played five games, we’ve won three and only lost one. It’s already a fantastic tour. But to go home, winning the urn would be phenomenal,” Cummins said on the eve of the final Test.
It’s not going to be easy for Australia. England have the momentum and Cummins’s own form has come under the scanner. Since the crucial role with the bat in Edgbaston, Cummins has struggled to step up and Australia will need their captain to put his hand up and lead from the front.
Team News – 5th Ashes Test
England have retained the same playing XI that played in Manchester, helping raise a few eyebrows. England decided to have faith in their senior campaigner James Anderson, who has been picked once again ahead of the impressive Josh Tongue. Anderson has managed only 4 wickets in 3 matches so far but England think that the veteran will step up under pressure and deliver in London.
On the other hand, there’s good news for Australia as captain Cummins played down the injury scare to Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc. Starc had a shoulder injury scare in Manchester while Marsh spent time off the field with soreness in the 4th Test.
Both Starc and Marsh are expected to be fit for the series finale while Australia might also think of bringing back Todd Murphy in place of Cameron Green. Nathan Lyon, who was ruled out of the series after the 2nd Test, has picked up 14 wickets in 4 Tests at The Oval, which includes a match-winning 4-wicket haul in the World Test Championship final. Lyon’s records is likely to give off-spinner Murphy another go.
5th Ashes Test, London Weather Forecast
Light showers have been forecast throughout the duration of the 5th Test in London. One can only hope that London offers better conditions than Manchester for what promises to be an exciting series finale.