Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook feels freshness can stop England's see-sawing Test form

Captain believes 'bonus days off' after Edgbaston could help seal series win

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The Independent Online

England are five days away, perhaps four, perhaps three, from regaining the Ashes. Delicious as the prospect is, they must expel it from their minds, as their captain, Alastair Cook, advocated.

All he wants his side to do is to concentrate on the first hour, then take it session by session and, hey presto, the urn – which all the fuss is about  – could be in the bag. Such has been the nature of proceedings so far – England winning two of the matches by a country mile, Australia the other by a street – that predictions about the outcome of the fourth Investec Test are unwise.

England could win by 200 runs or Australia by 10 wickets. It depends, it seems, who turns up on the day, which side of the bed they wake up on, the alignment of the moon. Form may be everything but it is switching its favours as if it were a gigolo going to the highest bidder.

 

Cook’s team have had a run of results the like of which has never been seen in Tests – win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, win – and on that basis they are due to lose this one. Except that as such a sequence is unprecedented it is unlikely to be extended for much longer.

The countenances of the captains told different stories here. Cook was cautious but relaxed; Michael Clarke, his counterpart, looked drained, even resigned. Cook was anxious not to get too far ahead of himself, hence the refusal to be drawn on the image of winning the series.

“The players are focusing on tomorrow morning, making sure if you are 30 for 3 or 50 for 5 you can fight your way back in. We have got to focus on what we do. I said at the beginning and I’ll say at the end of the series, whatever the result, no one gave us a chance at the beginning of the series, everyone was writing us off. It’s dangerous. Two-one sounds a great position to be in – it is, because it’s better than being 2-1 down – but there’s a lot of cricket to play.”

Clarke, desperately short of runs himself, may have been playing a game of bluff but he looked, sometimes sounded like a man walking to his doom, a man who had had enough. Asked about the possibility that Australia could lose here, meaning he would never be part of an Ashes-winning side in England in four attempts, he said: “That’s the way it goes. I still believe if we play our best we can win.”

This might have to include Clarke playing at his best, something of which he has fallen well short so far. There is talk of him moving down a place to No 5 and omitting the equally out-of-sorts Adam Voges but the latter’s knowledge of Trent Bridge is likely to save him and it would be difficult for the captain to hide himself lower down the order.

There is an obvious flaw in England’s attempt to achieve their objective of winning four successive home Ashes for the first time since 1890. The withdrawal of Jimmy Anderson because of a side strain goes beyond the wickets he might have taken himself – or for others with the pressure he exerts. Anderson is the leader of the attack, a sage who imparts knowledge to the others.

He has played 37 Tests on the trot – only Matthew Hoggard among England pace bowlers has appeared in more with a run of 40 – and has become emblematic. All, however, should not be considered lost.

Stuart Broad, who assumes Anderson’s mantle, did not especially distinguish himself the last time he had to make do without his friend in a Test, when at Lord’s against Sri Lanka in 2001 he took 2 for 154 across two innings of a draw. But he knows Trent Bridge and has taken 65 first-class wickets there – never more spectacularly than in 2011 when he dismantled India with 6 for 46, which included a hat-trick.

If Steve Finn can sustain the form he recaptured so encouragingly in Birmingham last week then Anderson’s loss may not be felt so keenly. Mark Wood, who will almost certainly be restored, is refreshed and if he can sustain speeds of 90mph that may give Australia something else to think about.

The pitch looks as though, in the parlance, it should do a bit, which can only be promising for England. If Australia outsmart them on an English-style pitch where the ball moves a little through the air and a little more off the seam then so be it, or as Clarke might have it, that’s the way it goes. But the manner in which the tourists approached their business when first Anderson and then Finn had their number last week suggests it would be all too much.

Unfamiliarity is one of the reasons but so too is the lack of desire to hang about which has had old-fashioned purists shaking their heads. All three Tests have rattled along with England scoring at 3.86 runs an over and Australia at 3.77. If it has often strayed far from the conventions, nay the verities of Test batting, it has also been hugely enjoyable, contributing to the what-the-devil’s-going-to-happen-next factor.

“The only thing we have changed is the approach to back-to-back Tests,” said Cook. “All those losses have come in the second game of a run of back-to-back Tests. We have won the first one, where we have been fresher. This game we have had a bonus two days off after Edgbaston so not being fresh can’t be used as an excuse.”

After the debacle of the pitch in Nottingham last year when the match between England and India moved along at funereal pace on a surface that offered nowt to anyone, this is bound to be different. England had won the five preceding Tests on the ground before last year’s draw and they have won both the last two there in the Ashes, both nerve-shredders, by three wickets and 14 runs in 2005 and 2013 respectively.

Their most comfortable Nottingham win against Australia remains the first. In 1905, the great Stanley Jackson led the team home by 213 runs and Bernard Bosanquet bowled himself into history by revealing for the first time in a home Test the googly he had invented and taking 8 for 107 in the process.

None of the three matches so far in this series has gone beyond the fourth day, enduring respectively – out of an allocated total of 450 overs – for 327.4 overs, 325.1 overs and 215.1 overs. It will be pace or seam, or a combination of both, that wins it. It will not go beyond Sunday and it will be won by, well, that really is anybody’s guess. But let’s say England to regain the Ashes.

Trent Bridge preview: Fourth Test details

Probable teams:

England A N Cook (capt), A Lyth, I R Bell, J E Root,  J M Bairstow, B A Stokes,  J C Buttler (wkt), M M Ali, S C J Broad, M A Wood, S T Finn.

Australia M J Clarke (capt),  C J L Rogers, D A Warner, S P D Smith, A C Voges, M R Marsh, P M Nevill (wkt), M G Johnson, M A Starc, J R Hazlewood,  N M Lyon.

Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and  S Ravi (India).

Weather Staying dry and overcast, with late sunshine. Maximum temperature: 21C

TV 10am-7pm, Sky Sports Ashes (highlights: 7-8pm, Channel 5)

Pitch report Likely to have some carry, a little pace, some swing provoked by the enclosed stands and something for the bowler who hits the seam.

Series details

First Test Eng won by 169 runs

Second Test Aus won by 405 runs

Third Test Eng won by 8 wkts

Fifth Test 20-24 Aug (The Oval)

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