5 talking points ahead of England’s final Ashes Test against Australia
A thrilling Ashes summer comes to an end at the Kia Oval this week, with Australia’s 2-1 lead ensuring they will be bringing the urn home with them.
England have plenty to play for too, shooting for a draw that would maintain an undefeated record in the ‘Bazball’ era and spoil their rivals’ celebrations.
Here, the PA news agency looks at five key talking points.
Changing of the guard
While there are no confirmed retirements on the cards, this game looks like the end of an Ashes era. Both teams are packed with thirty-somethings, several of whom are unlikely to pass this way again. Moeen Ali came out of retirement to answer an SOS but is almost certain to step away again, James Anderson turns 41 during the match and may finally be making his Ashes swansong, while Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood are not getting any younger. Australian opener David Warner is definitely saying goodbye to this particular rivalry and has a handful of team-mates who are long shots to be back here in four years. Expect a few poignant moments.
Anderson in focus
Anderson and England have nipped speculation about his future in the bud, with both parties insisting the most prolific seam bowler in Test history is not ready to hang up his boots just yet. But with time marching onwards, now would be the ideal time to show he is still operating at the highest level. Four wickets at 76.75 is a dreadful return for a player of his imperious standing and he will know it. The selectors have kept the faith and he needs to repay with his best performance of the series. With the likes of Josh Tongue, Ollie Robinson and Matthew Potts itching for a chance, he cannot wait too long.
A fresh start for Crawley?
Amid the frustration of last week’s rain-ruined draw, Zak Crawley peeled off one of the most remarkable Ashes centuries ever. His 189 from 182 balls was a modern classic and underlined in bold the reasons England have stuck with him for so long. That innings has surely bought him time, but he needs to use it as a staging post. His last huge score, 267 against Pakistan in 2020, proved something of a false dawn but he is older, wiser and more experienced now. Armed with a high-class, high-pressure ton against England’s biggest rivals, the 25-year-old must try and peak more frequently – starting now.
Can captain Cummins bounce back
Australia skipper Pat Cummins did not look like a man who had won the World Test Championship and retained the Ashes at Old Trafford. In the field he looked passive at times and reactive at others and his own form evaporated as he turned in dire figures of one for 129 during England’s batting assault. He has even attracted some critics Down Under who want to see him step away from the role, despite his achievements this summer. Another loss would only intensify those calls and he needs to turn in an authoritative show to quieten them down.
22 years of hurt
It is hard to overestimate how much Australia want to turn their advantage into an outright series win. The last time the Baggy Greens won behind enemy lines was back in 2001, with defeats in 2005, 2009, 2013, 2015 and a 2-2 draw four years ago. Many of the current squad were involved in the 2019 contest, over-celebrating ahead of the Oval decider and coming unstuck. They are hungry to put that right this time, while England are keen to see them fall at the last hurdle. England’s triumph Down Under in 2010-11 – a series both Anderson and Broad played in – remains the last away Ashes win and the hosts want to keep it that way.
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