Wednesday, August 21, 2013

So much more than a dead rubber

England have a pretty decent record against Australia at the Oval, they also have a pretty good record against Australia in dead rubbers. The only difference this time is they are not the ones bringing up the rear.

Non cricket lovers would question the need for a further 5 full days of sport given the series is already decided and usually other than the opportunity to make money they would be quite correct. This time however there is much still to play for.

This Ashes series will always be different from any other that went before because of the immediacy of the one that follows. Granted that whilst nothing that happens in London later this week will physically affect how a ball is bowled in Brisbane, the effect on the psychology of the players going into the next series could be huge.

Everyone seems united in the assumption that England are by far the better team - we're not quite so sure it's that clear cut - and if they go on to win the series 4-0 then it is of course an almighty pasting and will give a clear statement of intent before heading down under.

Should however Australia manage to conjure a win from somewhere - they were extremely close at Old Trafford -then they can afford to feel some optimism if not outright confidence going into the series to come at home.

It could be expected that England may choose to rest some battered bodies but given the context of the upcoming series they will surely wish to drive another point home. Graeme Swann's fitness has been questionable for some years now and Jimmy Anderson has looked listless in the last two tests. A full house at the Oval and Australia in their sights will be too much temptation however and both will play.

For Alastair Cook it will also be an interesting test. There seems little doubt that the captaincy has been weighing on him in this series but with the urn secured outright it will be interesting to see if he can get back to doing what he does best, scoring heavy runs.

The biggest pressure within the England team probably exists for Joe Root and Johnny Bairstow. Other than his huge score at Lords, Root's average has been horrific and Bairstow is a man in desperate need of a big score. England's options look rather limited but it's hard to suggest that Compton would have averaged any worse at opener this series and Gary Ballance is pushing for an opportunity.

Root for sure remains one to persist with but Bairstow is in danger of having a test career falling short of the likes of even Mark Ramprakash and Robert Key who it must be said were facing a far higher level of bowling attacks.

For Australia there is an opportunity to settle the batting order and overall team selection. Coming into the series they appeared to have no idea what their best eleven was but things look much clearer now at least in the short term.

David Warner's return has been very positive for the side. Had he, Nathan Lyon and Ryan Harris been available and selected from the outset then this series may have been far closer.

Oval pitches have been kind to spinners in the past and Nathan Lyon, whilst not a prodigious spinner of the ball may well have an important role to play in this game. He is far from spectacular but he has surely done enough to finally nail down the spin position in the Australian team.

Michael Clarke will have much to ponder again going in to the match but he for one should feel proud of the way he has performed both on and off the pitch. He has batted with style and courage, captained positively in the field and has handled himself with the utmost dignity off the field.

He has done much to restore some faith in a team that had lost a huge amount of public support and he should be congratulated for it. One must feel he for one deserves a test win finally.

The fifth and final test at the Oval will be about far more than simply filling the ECB's bulging coffers, it offers a huge opportunity for both individuals and teams alike to lay down markers before hostilities resume in Brisbane in November - No Nonsense.