FIFTH TEST: ENGLAND VS AUSTRALIA- THE OVAL (JULY 27-AUGUST 1)
The destination of the urn may be decided, however the series is still very much alive as the Ashes reaches its conclusion at The Oval, beginning on Thursday. Having drawn the series in England four years ago, the Australians will be eager to claim their first series victory in the Old Dart since 2001, however they will need to shift the momentum, having been clearly outplayed in the rain-affected draw at Old Trafford. After being sent in on a pitch that offered very little for the bowlers, several Australian batsmen made starts but couldn’t go on with it as they posted 317 with seamer Chris Woakes (5/62) continuing his resurgent return to the side. The hosts certainly made the most of the favourable batting conditions, amassing 592 with opener Zak Crawley stroking a sublime 189, while beleaguered ‘keeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow finished unbeaten on 99 as the visiting pace attack struggled to stem the flow of boundaries. A combination of unrelenting rain over the final two days in conjunction with an assured 111 from Marnus Labuschagne ensured that the Aussies held on for the draw they needed to secure the urn, however unlike four years prior there seems to be more of a focus on winning the series outright.
But it will take more than just a change in attitude for the tourists to get back to the form and composure shown in the first two tests which is why England are again favourites, while more rain forecast, this time towards the front end of the match, sees the draw price again in the frame.
Although the match ultimately finished in a stalemate, the fourth test showcased just how much Australia miss Nathan Lyon and while this time around they are likely to balance their attack with stand-in tweaker Todd Murphy, it will be another big challenge to contain England’s rampant batting unit on what shapes to be another friendly surface. The key for England has been the introduction of Woakes and fellow paceman Mark Wood to the side who between them have used guile and brute force to prize out an Australian top-order which looked far more comfortable in the opening two matches of the series.
This time around we’re going to keep the draw onside, less so because of the inclement weather, but with another sedate pitch on the cards, Labuschagne’s second innings knock may have provided the template for his teammates to follow and cash-in with a draw again ticking all the boxes for the visitors. However Australian success with the bat is not something we can depend on, with the home side looking far more confident across all disciplines. The first three tests of the series were all very tight, however England dominated proceedings at Manchester but that dominance has not been sufficiently recognised by the market, so I believe the hosts are good value to square the series at The Oval.
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Overall, Australia holds a slight advantage in the series head to head, but a bigger advantage in total tests won.
The Aussies have won 34 series to England’s 32, but lead 140-108 head to head in all tests, with 92 draws.
Australia dominated the Ashes for nearly two decades under Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh with 8 consecutive series wins from 1989 to 2005.
During that period, England only won 1 test match whilst the Ashes were still alive (a non dead rubber), which came in the first test of the 1997 series. That test match was also famous for Mark Taylor’s heroic and career saving second innings century.
England famously won the Ashes back in 2005 in arguably the greatest test series ever played. Led by Michael Vaughan and with Andrew Flintoff dominating, they would claim the series 2-1.
Shane Warne’s 40 wickets for Australia in that same series was his best ever haul across any series in his career.
In recent times the Ashes have been dominated by the home side.
England have only won 1 series on Australian soil since 1987 (that came in 2010/2011), and Australia last won a series in England back in 2001. England subsequently won the Ashes on home soil in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2015.
The 2019 series in England was drawn, allowing Australia to retain the Ashes. Remarkably, this was the first drawn Ashes series since 1972.
Prior to 2001 the English leg of the Ashes was always played over 6 tests, with 5 tests played when Australia was the host. This changed to a uniform five test series in both countries from 2001 to the present.
HEAD TO HEAD IN ENGLAND
MOST RUNS AUS: DONALD BRADMAN 5,028 AT 89.78 (19 centuries)
MOST RUNS ENG: JACK HOBBS 3,636 AT 54.26 (12 centuries)
MOST WICKETS AUS: SHANE WARNE 195 AT 23.25 (11 five wicket hauls)
MOST WICKETS ENG: STUART BROAD 131 AT 29.05 (8 five wicket hauls)
2021/2022: 4-0 AUSTRALIA IN AUS
2019: 2-2 DRAW IN ENG
2017/18: 4-0 AUSTRALIA IN AUS
2015: 3-2 ENGLAND IN ENG
2013/2014: 5-0 AUSTRALIA IN AUS
VENUES AND DATES
FIRST TEST: EDGBASTON, BIRMINGHAM (HEAD TO HEAD AT VENUE ENG 6, AUS 4, DRAW 5)
SECOND TEST: LORDS, LONDON (HEAD TO HEAD AT VENUE AUS 16, ENG 7, DRAW 15)
JUNE 28-JULY 2
THIRD TEST: HEADINGLEY, LEEDS (HEAD TO HEAD AT VENUE AUS 9, ENG 8, DRAW 8)
FOURTH TEST: OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER (HEAD TO HEAD AT VENUE AUS 8, ENG 7, DRAW 17)
FIFTH TEST: THE OVAL, LONDON (HEAD TO HEAD AT VENUE ENG 16, AUS 6, DRAW 14)
All 5 venues to be used in this series are the same 5 that were used for the 2019 series.
Australia have generally had favorable results across these grounds with the exception of the Oval, which has historically been their poorest venue in England.
Lords has been a happy hunting ground for the visitors with only one defeat at the ground since 1934.
Headingley was the seen of the most memorable test of the 2019 series when Ben Stokes guided England to a remarkable one wicket victory.
Edgbaston is also famous for England’s 2 run win in the 2005 series when Michael Kasprowicz was caught off the glove by Geraint Jones.
Old Trafford is second only to the Sydney Cricket Ground for days lost to bad weather. It is also the only English ground to lose an entire test match without a ball being bowled due to rain. Not surprisingly, it has the highest percentage of draws of all English venues.
England’s form coming out of the 2021/2022 Ashes series was grim, however “Baz Ball” has revolutionized their game and turned them into an attacking force.
The term refers to their coach, former swashbuckling New Zealand keeper/bastsman Brendan “Baz” McCullum.
Under his leadership, and that of positive captain Ben Stokes, England have quickly transformed into a very different proposition to the one who hasn’t won an Ashes series since 2015.
England’s average first innings score has jumped from 212 (2018-2021) up to 304 in the last 18 months.
The major factor has been the rate of scoring, with England going at higher than 5 an over under McCullum. Their approach can best be summed up by the fact that in February they declared 58 overs into the first day of a test with New Zealand, when on 9/325. It is the second earliest declaration in test cricket history. (Behind Pakistan’s 44.5 overs in 1974).
In Pakistan late last year, England became the first team to score 500 runs in a day of test cricket, with 4 individual centurions.
They also chased an English record of 378 to defeat India in a test match, doing so at nearly 6.5 an over.
England have at times been criticized for being too conservative, but that is no longer the case under their current leadership, so this promises to be a fascinating watch.
Australia dominated their home summer against struggling West Indies and South African teams before losing 2-1 away to India.
The India series started poorly but by the end of it Australia had built some strong momentum, ultimately outplaying their opponents for large portions of the final two tests.
The Aussies travel record has steadily improved with wins in Pakistan and the UAE, as well as drawn series in Sri Lanka and England in recent years.
For the visitors a lot of the watch has been on the make up of the top order. With the form of Dave Warner a talking point, as well as the best position of Travis Head, and the ideal choice to fill back up roles for the top 6.
STEVE SMITH: Smith is top 5 all time for runs scored in Ashes tests. He has 3,044 at 60 with 11 centuries. He was very much the difference in 2019 despite missing one and a half tests with concussion. He has 1700 runs in England at 59.29. He has spent the last few weeks playing county cricket and looks to be finding form.
MARNUS LABUSCHAGNE: Labuschagne was ok in India without starring, with 234 runs at just under 40. It was the concussion to Steve Smith in the 2019 series that saw Labuschagne return to the side and start his current run, scoring 4 half centuries in that series.
DAVID WARNER: Warner averages 26 in England across four tours with no centuries. His huge Boxing Day test hundred looked to be the exception in an otherwise lean period over the last 18 months and at 36 years of age his future is up in the air. He has been dismissed 24 times by Broad and Anderson combined, so the question remains, can the champion opener respond?
PAT CUMMINS: Cummins only has one series in England, but he took 29 wickets at 19.62 to help Australia retain the Ashes. He had to leave the Indian series due to a family tragedy and will be keen to guide his team to victory.
NATHAN LYON: Lyon took 20 wickets in the last series in England, but 9 of those came in the first test. He averages 31.6 in the UK from 13 test matches and would still be favored to be the pick of the spinners.
BEN STOKES: Stokes was the hero of the Headingley test in 2019 and his style of play sums up the “Baz Ball” concept. Can he score quick runs and contribute with the ball to put pressure on Australia throughout? The notion of all-rounders being captains’ has always been a source of debate given their existing responsibilities are substantial.
JOHNNY BAIRNSTOW: Bairstow has been confirmed as England’s wicket keeper elect for the series. It means England are opting to pick a batsman who keeps rather than their first choice gloveman. Bairstow has scored over 1000 runs at 66.7 since the start of 2022 with 6 test centuries, meaning he is arguably in career best form with the bat.
JOE ROOT: Root scored 5 test centuries in the 2022 calendar year, and started this season with 153 and 95* against New Zealand in Wellington. Freed from the burden of leadership, this world class batsman can be the difference if it clicks for him.
STUART BROAD: Broad has 84 wickets at 24.7 against Australia in England, and the veteran, alongside the 40 year-old Jimmy Anderson will still be called upon to do new ball damage. In and out of the side in recent years, the English selectors would be mad not back in their most successful Ashes bowler of all time.
HARRY BROOK: Brook has scored over 800 runs in the first 6 tests of his career, with 4 centuries. His approach suits England’s style perfectly with a strike rate of 98.77. He, alongside unheralded types such as Ben Duckett (strike rate of 86) and Ollie Pope will need to deliver.