Australia have already opened the champagnes after their 185-run win in the fourth Ashes Test in Old Trafford. It gave them an unassailable 2-1 lead, meaning they retained the urn on English soil for the first time in 18 years. Traditionally, in such a scenario, the final Test, starting at The Oval on Thursday, September 12, would be a dead rubber. But not with the World Test Championship going at full tilt.
England still have 24 points up for grabs and can draw themselves level with Australia in the WTC table. Such is nature of the points system, even if Australia were to win at The Oval and claim the series 3-1, they won’t claim top spot – at best, they’ll be placed second, a full 40 points behind leaders India.
The peculiarities of the WTC table is a discussion for another day, though. For now, points are up for grabs, and England are desperate for a win, for a multitude of reasons. Despite Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley, they’ve been outplayed mostly this series, with Steven Smith proving an immovable force. The euphoria from their World Cup triumph has been deflated a fair bit, and furthermore, the final Test will also be the last in charge of England for coach Trevor Bayliss.
They have many reasons to go for the win. It’s been a fine English summer on the whole, and they’ll want to end it on a high. It’s still a difficult task, though, and it remains to be seen whether Australia relent a bit, now that the major incentive of keeping the urn has been achieved.
Head to head
The loss in Old Trafford was England’s 146th against Australia. In their 350 matches, England have won 109 times, but Australia are still head and shoulders above them in the rivalry, and while that will take a while to reverse, there is the danger that if Australia win at The Oval, they will draw level with England’s victory count (52) at home.
Joe Root (England): The England captain has come in for some criticism after Old Trafford. There are calls for him to be sacked as captain – his own form has suffered, and the team isn’t producing results. Root has insisted he wants to continue leading the side, though, and all eyes will be on him when he steps out at The Oval. A good performance is imperative.
Steven Smith (Australia): Can anybody stop Smith? He wasn’t to be stopped till it was much too late in Old Trafford, and if he pulls out another masterclass, England might well and truly be beaten. It’s been a terrific comeback to Test cricket for Smith, and he will want to cap this series with another big performance.
England: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Craig Overton, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad
Australia: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
England to get one back, finally, to end the series in a tie.