The Ashes belong to Australia. Can England salvage some pride to draw the series at The Oval?
After a summer full of cricketing miracles, England left themselves needing one too many at Old Trafford. And if we’re being brutally honest, Australia will deservedly take the Ashes home following this final Test at The Oval.
Barring a couple of thrilling sessions at Lord’s, England have been clinging on to this series ever since Steve Smith’s first, match-winning century at Edgbaston, and the deep-lying, fundamental problems with this England side—from top to bottom—are no longer being papered over.
Barring Rory Burns and Ben Stokes, the English batting has been desperately poor; a line-up which is disjointed, devoid of identity and packed full of white ball specialists who cannot adjust to the rigours of Test cricket was never likely to succeed against a superb Australian bowling attack.
As for the English bowling, the drop-off after Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer has been pretty alarming, and the selection of Craig Overton for the last Test encapsulated how thin the bowling reserves really are.
Looking forward to The Oval, and this is no dead rubber. Yes, the Aussies have the Ashes, but England coming back to secure a (pretty undeserved) 2-2 draw would take a certain amount of shine off this Ashes triumph, as well as ensuring England’s 2010/11 victory Down Under isn’t eclipsed.
However, that won’t happen, because Australia will win. The squad selection for The Oval Test has been predictably…predictable, and why Ed Smith thinks trying the same thing for a fifth straight match will yield different results is baffling.
Make no mistake, England could well be 4-0 down at this point. If Steve Smith hadn’t been smacked in the head at Lord’s, and if Ben Stokes hadn’t turned into Superman at Headingley, both matches could easily have been lost. At this stage, 2-1 flatters England a touch.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are simply too good for the likes of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler (I’m leaving Joe Denly out of this conversation for now, as he’s shown some admirable bottle in the last couple of matches), and with The Oval pitch often a batter’s paradise, it’s hard to see Smith in particular not seriously cashing in.
Unfortunately, this series is ending 3-1 to Australia – and could anyone really argue with that?
Here’s a stat which will no-doubt cheer some England fans up: in his three innings at The Oval, Steve Smith has scored 288 runs, made two centuries and averages 144.
Considering Smith has excelled on pitches far trickier to bat on than The Oval this series, the thought of the damage he’ll do to England in South London is a fairly terrifying one.
Smith is on another planet to everybody else, and he will score a big hundred (or two) – aided by the fact that England have absolutely no idea how to get him out.
5/4 for Smith to be top first innings batsman does look a little skinny, however, but backing him to be Man of the Match is a more inviting 9/2.
If Australia win, as I expect, Smith will be the one who scores the bulk of the runs, and with the Aussie seamers fairly consistently sharing the wickets around, I’d expect him to net his third MOTM award (with Ben Stokes holding the other two).
One area where both sides have been consistently poor is at the top of the order. The highest opening partnership of either side this series is the 22 put on by Rory Burns and Jason Roy at Edgbaston, which is pitiful.
However, with Burns batting on his home ground and Denly finding a little form, I’m backing England’s openers to have a higher first-wicket stand than their hapless Aussie counterparts.
The highest Australian first-wicket partnership this series is 13, and with David Warner averaging under 10 and Marcus Harris not a lot more—both of whom with absolutely no answer to Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer—I’m fairly confident England will eclipse them in this regard.