Ashes 2015: England want no let-up in last Test with team on brink of history

Mark Wood is still nursing a chronic ankle problem and could miss out if Jimmy Anderson returns to the side

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The Independent Online

As if regaining the Ashes were not enough, England now stand on the cusp of history. Anyone suggesting when it all began in Cardiff six weeks ago that they would arrive at The Oval tomorrow with a chance of winning their fourth match of the series would have been pilloried for their stupidity along with those demented souls who thought Jeremy Corbyn had a prayer of leading a political party.

But that is precisely what has happened and in England’s case they appear to have managed it without the influence of interlopers, unless you count their splendidly understated Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss. If nothing else – and there may be plenty else behind the scenes – Bayliss’s quiet common sense and uncomplicated wisdom have allowed the players to go confidently about their business.

If there has been a secret formula it has been in the preparation of pitches which are as native to England as the house sparrow. The team’s fast bowlers have reacted wonderfully, as if sending down a thank you note with every ball. In turn, Australia’s batsmen have found them to be an alien species and have responded with a combination of panic and incomprehension.

The upshot is that England lead 3-1, having won the first, third and fourth matches, all convincingly, and lost the second, on the blandest surface of the summer, by a similar Outback mile. On the way, they have persuaded into retirement the Australia captain, Michael Clarke.

In addition, Chris Rogers, has confirmed his retirement and it is probable the 35-year-old Adam Voges, who had played first-class cricket for 13 years before being picked for a Test, will not appear again after this. Australia have urgent rebuilding to do and victory will not alter that.

Defeat would hardly tarnish England’s triumph since so few expected it, but 4-1 has a more resounding historic ring to it than 3-2. Never before have England won four matches against Australia in a home series, though they have done so three times away. And they mean business.

Mark Wood, the man who sealed the Ashes with Australia’s final second-innings wicket at Trent Bridge, confirmed as much. The very day after the Nottingham celebrations, it seems, the England captain, Alastair Cook, was on the phone to his boys reminding them of their responsibilities. “To sum it up, Cooky rang me the next day and didn’t let that winning feeling sink in too much because he was saying, ‘Brilliant, well done, but let’s make it 4-1’,” said Wood at The Oval.

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England football manager Roy Hodgson visited the squad at the Oval

“If it was the other way round I’m sure Australia wouldn’t give us an easy ride. Of course, there’ll be celebrations after the game, but we have to prepare like we have for every other game and make sure we are raring to go – 4-1 would make it just that bit more sweet.”

On the four occasions they have come to The Oval with three Tests in the bag, they have been thwarted. In 1977 rain ruined the contest, in 1981, a six-match series, enough miracles had already been performed to preclude an England win, and in 2013, bad light ended the match when they were in sight of victory, though only because Australia had twice declared.

It is difficult to think that Clarke would be so audacious this year in the last match of his professional career. If England are to win they will have to do so authentically. Australia have now had quite enough of embarrassment at the hands of the Poms they were supposed to cast contemptuously aside, but everything they have said and done since the tumultuous match at Nottingham indicates that they are a well-beaten team.

England will never have a more clear-cut chance to garner a fourth victory for the first time since they defeated an Australia second XI 5-1 in 1978-79 (the first team were off playing in the breakaway World Series Cricket). They have a selection conundrum – whether to bring back Jimmy Anderson after his side strain and if so, whom should he replace.

Despite his memorable Saturday morning in Nottingham, Wood is probably the most vulnerable. He has a chronic ankle problem which may need surgery, though at present he is bowling through the pain.

“I’m sure everyone would want Jimmy in the side so if he’s fit he probably gets the nod,” said Wood. “There’s a little bit of pressure on me because every other bowler has a five-for and I haven’t yet. I don’t want to miss out, but it might have to be done to make sure I can perform at my best and not let the team down.”

That was a phlegmatic attitude. Anderson had only a gentle bowl in the nets yesterday, though that might have been a declaration of fitness. England will take no risks but a fourth win against Australia is not to be sniffed at.

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Back of the nets for Roy Hodgson

England’s usual pre-nets jolly kickabout with a football took on a rather more earnest air yesterday. The players were anxious to impress the watching England football manager, Roy Hodgson, who had been invited to watch the Australia training session and stayed.

“They were good,” said Hodgson. “It comes as no surprise that people who are good at one sport are good at another. A couple of them could probably have had a career in professional football but, thankfully for us, they chose cricket.”

Hodgson, a keen spectator of cricket on television, was delighted to meet the England and Australia coaches, Darren Lehmann and Trevor Bayliss.

“All sports are different but it’s all about leadership and man-management, preparing your team to face what is going to come,” Hodgson said. “It’s always nice as a coach to meet other coaches working at the top level of their sport.”

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