Ashes 2015: Keep the champagne on ice – let's make this a rousing end to a remarkable series

Alastair Cook and Trevor Bayliss know they have not suddenly become the best team in the world

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Clinical and ruthless – these will have been the key words repeated by England’s captain and coach during pre-match meetings this week as they try to secure a 4-1 Ashes victory.

England can only have dreamt of being in this position going into the last game. They must resist the temptation to look beyond this match. But we can look to the future.

Ian Bell has won five Ashes series, equalling Sir Ian Botham’s modern-day record. Michael Clarke has participated in five lost Ashes series, which is the most by an Australian for more than 100 years.

England are the first team to have four different bowlers to take six wickets in four consecutive innings (Jimmy Anderson, Steve Finn, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes).

After the victory at Trent Bridge, Alastair Cook became the first England player to participate in 50 Test match victories.

 

Extraordinary stuff, and surely a series neither side could have predicted. For Cook and his team, the fairy-tale summer will just about be complete if Adam Lyth scores a hundred to add to his maiden century against New Zealand.

The guillotine is poised to drop and Lyth will know that he simply has to make a major contribution to convince the selectors to stick with him.

Now is not the time to debate possible alternatives, though don’t underestimate the importance of the one-day series against Australia that follows and the opportunities it may provide for some top-order players.

England’s management should have considered Adil Rashid for this Test match if they genuinely felt the ball would turn by the middle of day three, with a view to the tour of the UAE against Pakistan in October, when spin will potentially have a great impact on the series.

On the theme of selection dilemmas, Anderson’s absence means Mark Wood and Finn have the chance to cement their place in the team. As has been proved in the last two games, both are considerable assets. Wood is a good exponent of reverse swing which, with dry conditions at The Oval, might give him the edge if he is fully fit.

And while it would be unwise to look too far ahead, the arid conditions expected during the Pakistan series should also assist reverse-swing bowling, so this could prove a great opportunity for Wood to impress.

Finn is certain to enjoy the Oval surface which, although not offering faster bowlers the pace it did a few years ago, still provides enough carry and encouragement.

Whatever the result in this last Test, inevitably there will be wild celebrations after a dramatic summer which has brought not only a change in management but a change in fortunes after a horrible winter.

It’s important to contextualise the events of the last month or so. Cook and the coach, Trevor Bayliss, will know that they have not suddenly become the best team in the world and that the same issues England needed to address before this summer still need addressing. They are on the search for a match-winning spinner and an opening partner for Cook.

Consistent selections should be applauded, though. Players need a chance to develop and will not always be an instant success. Lyth may or may not take his chance in this game but either way he cannot argue he did not have a fair opportunity. A run of seven Tests in a row is a good gauge for him, and for selectors to make an informed decision on his future.

Instead of discarding Moeen Ali and trying to find an alternative, the selectors have invested time in him. They should continue to do so. Ironically, it’s the runs he has scored at No 8 that are helping to keep him in the team and to become one of its integral parts.

Moeen’s greatest challenge is a couple of months away during the Pakistan series, when the captain will throw him the ball in helpful spinning conditions and rightly expect results. But that is all down the line.

Clarke will play his final Test at The Oval. It is certain to be an emotional occasion for one of Australia’s finest batsmen and most innovative captains. Awkward, too, as his successor has already been publicly announced. I had hoped this announcement would be made after the game to afford Clarke a full and proper send-off.

A mention, too, for Chris Rogers, who will be playing in his final Test and will be hugely missed, as a nuggety left-hander who has to be prised out and has always placed the highest value on his wicket. His international career came late to him and he has certainly been an inspiration to those players who don’t achieve early success. The Rogers mantra might be: don’t give up, it’s amazing what you can achieve.

Runs for Clarke, another England win to take the series 4-1 and a contest that lasts more than three days would do nicely to finish off what has been a remarkable six weeks of Test cricket.

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