Australia are set to make just two changes to their starting XI for the dead-rubber fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, despite the humiliating nature of their series-sealing loss to England in the fourth encounter at Trent Bridge a fortnight ago.
Pat Cummins will reportedly replace NSW teammate Josh Hazlewood in the tourists’ pace attack, making his first Test appearance since taking 6/79 on debut as an 18-year-old against South Africa in 2011, a haul that spearheaded a memorable two-wicket win at Centurion.
Cummins was a late inclusion in Australia’s squad only after veteran workhorse Ryan Harris announced his retirement due to injury a month out from the Ashes tour. But the 22-year-old sealed his call-up with 3/64 and 82 not out – his highest first-class score – in last week’s tour match against Northamptonshire.
In the only other likely change, all-rounder Mitchell Marsh will be recalled to the side at the expense of older brother Shaun, who produced a pitiful return of 0 and 2 in the Trent Bridge disaster. Mitchell had replaced out-of-sorts Shane Watson for the second and third Tests, but averaged just 15 with the bat and took only three wickets before being usurped by Shaun.
But he was another to be rewarded for a fine showing against Northants, starring with 4/56 and 68.
With the series result already confirmed, this Test will be all about Australian captain Michael Clarke. Undoubtedly one of the all-time greats, Clarke has been battered from pillar to post by former coaches and teammates in a shameless character assassination since announcing after Trent Bridge he would be retiring at the conclusion of the series.
John Buchanan, Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds all tastelessly used Clarke’s retirement to dredge up incidents in which he has alienated teammates over the years and bring his leadership qualities into question.
Reassuringly, Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting have both gone in to bat for ‘Pup’ since, proving that mateship is still alive and well in the Australian cricketing fraternity despite the pettiness of some high-profile alumni.
One of the most decorated batsman in Test history and a successful captain since taking over from Ricky Ponting, one of Clarke’s great legacies is the courageous manner in which he led Australian cricket – and, indeed, the nation – through the Phillip Hughes tragedy last summer.
He retired from the limited-overs formats after leading his country to World Cup glory in March, but the goodwill of the previous six months quickly dissipated thanks to the emphatic surrendering of The Ashes under his charge and a dismal run of form with the bat.
Clarke has averaged just 16.7 on this tour, with a high-score of 38.
It seems incongruous that one of modern cricket’s finest servants could go out on such a depressing note, and despite the many fans around the world that are no doubt gleefully revelling in Australia’s woes, the vast majority – including Clarke’s recent detractors – would surely like to see him enjoy a hero’s farewell.
Well, as heroic as it can be after such a devastating series defeat.
Clarke needs an unlikely 222 runs at The Oval if he is dismissed twice, or 172 if he only gets out once, to finish with a career average of 50 – a hallowed mark only eight Australians have managed previously.
It was not all that long ago that Clarke managed four double-centuries in the 2012 calendar year – including a Test-best 329 not out. He has added another six tons since then to take his Test career tally to 29 hundreds, while he is Australia’s fourth-highest run-scorer of all time with 8,628, behind only Ponting, Allan Border and Steve Waugh.
The disillusioned Australian side will be looking for their long-time saviour to inspire a face-saving result in London.
The fifth Test also shapes as a send-off for veteran opener Chris Rogers, who has arguably been Australia’s best player in England with a brilliant 173 in the Lord’s victory and three half-centuries. The 35-year-old confirmed he will retire after the match.
Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Mitchell Starc, Cummins and wicketkeeper Peter Nevill will see this match as an audition to be retained for the two-Test series in Bangladesh in October, the intriguing three-Test home series against New Zealand in November, and the three-Test series in Australia against West Indies in December/January.
The likes of Watson, Brad Haddin, Shaun Marsh and Peter Siddle – all of whom will watch The Oval clash from the pavilion – may have already played their last Tests, while perhaps only captain-in-waiting Steve Smith, soon-to-be vice-captain David Warner, pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson and spinner Nathan Lyon and can be confident of walking into the side for the upcoming international schedule.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) August 14, 2015
The only likely change to the England side will be if Edgbaston hero James Anderson recovers from a side strain, in which case he would replace an unlucky Mark Wood – although opener Adam Lyth is under pressure after averaging a miserable 12.3 with a high-score of 37, a series performance that has been glossed over thanks to the hosts’ glorious Ashes success.
Fifth Test – England v Australia
Kennington Oval, London – Thursday, August 20 – Monday, August 24, 8pm (AEST)
Likely Australian team: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke (c), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon.
Likely England team: Adam Lyth, Alistair Cook (c), Ian Bell, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn, James Anderson/Mark Wood.