As the gripping Ashes series enters the last lap both Australia and England have high stakes as they lock horns at the Oval. Firstly there is the incentive of picking up maximum possible points in a test for the 2 year world test championships for both teams. Apart from that England will try to ensure not to lose the series whereas Australia would want to win their first ashes series on English soil since 2001. As is the tradition, the Oval pitch promises to be a good batting deck and weather forecasts are decent.
England have made few changes for the Oval. Jason Roy finally had to go even though he showed slight improvements while batting in middle order though still has a long way to go to upgrade his technique for success at test level. The big question is whether Root will drop down to his more favoured number 4 spot or whether he persists at 3. Currently however with Denly opening, they do not seem to be a ready candidate at number 3 hence Root have bat at 3 at Oval. Due to major focus on white ball cricket in last couple of years leading to the ODI World cup most of the England test batters have struggled with their technical deficiencies against a high quality Australian bowling attack ,only Stokes has shown solidity in the series followed by Burns while Root is unable to convert his few 50s to the next level. Maybe England need to look at Jack Leach more than a number 10 batsman. Not long ago ,as a nightwatchman opener he scored 92 vs Ireland in a low scoring test and looked more solid than a number 10 in this series. The bowling will see the return of Chris Woakes and Sam Curran will play as 4th seamer since Stokes picked a shoulder injury at Manchester and will play as a specialist batter. So Overton is being dropped. Sam Curran who had such a great season vs India in 2018 but it’s a shame that England could not utilise Curran’s talent this season. Being a capable batter, he should definitely have replaced Roy much earlier.
Australia has lots to think over regarding their opening combination. Both Warner and Harris have gone through the horrors ,inspite of which surprisingly both are being persisted with for Oval. So no way back for Khawaja or Bancroft. Travis Head ,though scored few runs has not looked solid hence rightly replaced by allrounder Mitch Marsh who will provide that right hand batting option and a good 5th bowling option to allow greater rest for the main fast bowlers. Also England bowlers will have one less left hander to bowl to. Another big discussion is with their bowling composition on whether they will rest one of Cummins and Hazlewood or both. Cummins had played in every single game starting the world cup and has taken huge workload. So with little recovery time between 4th or 5th test there is a possibility of fatigue going into the Oval test. Hazlewood by contrast did not play in World cup ,but took lots of workload starting from 2nd test. Some quality bowling available in the sheds in form of Siddle, Pattinson and uncapped Neser, all of them fresh.However it does look tough to rest both Cummins and Hazlewood after their steller shows in the series and with so much at stake for Oval. Marsh’s inclusion is an indication that both Cummins and Hazlewood will play at Oval.
Finally it remains to be seen where does Steve Smith end in his aggregate runs for the series. He needs 304 more runs to break Don’s alltime highest aggregate runs in a series — 974. A food for thought as Smith totalled 293 runs at Old Trafford and Oval is a great batting pitch.
The possible XIs for Oval test are:
Australia : Harris Warner , Labuschagne, Smith, Marsh, Wade, Paine, Starc, Cummins /Siddle, Hazlewood, Lyon.
England : Burns, Denly, Root, Stokes , Bairstow,Buttler, Curran, Woakes, Leach, Archer, Broad.