Collingwood likely to get the nod as England heroes chase Ashes destiny

Click to follow
The Independent Online

England will wait until this morning before they name their side, but the sight of Paul Collingwood having extra batting practice with the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, suggests that the Durham batsman currently has the edge over James Anderson.

Vaughan said that it would be impossible for England to replace Jones, so well has the fast bowler been bowling, a comment which again seems to point to Collingwood making his third Test appearance for England. Collingwood is a tenacious little cricketer who has shown he can handle the big occasion, but never will he, or for that matter any member of Vaughan's side, ever again play in a match of this significance. It is 18 years since England last laid hands on the "little urn" and anything but defeat will allow these players to became national heroes.

Anderson, the Lancashire fast bowler, would be a more attacking alternative, but Collingwood's stronger character looks set to count for more.

"We have to try and cover all options," said Vaughan diplomatically. "We have to make sure that we go into the game with a positive mindset. This week gives the team a great opportunity to cement their position in history, and I just want the players to go out there and give it their all, and we will see where it takes us."

The loss of Jones and the reappearance of McGrath is unlikely to undermine the confident mood that currently exists in Vaughan's side, but it has supplied the Australians with the sort of tonic they were looking for.

McGrath missed the fourth Test with an elbow injury and has not bowled in a match situation since 21 August. Most teams would be reluctant to risk playing a player with so little form behind him, but the Australian selectors were obviously happy with what they witnessed during his 40-minute bowl in the Oval nets.

"It's business as usual," was all McGrath had to say on the matter, and England will be hoping that this is not the case. England have capitalised fully on McGrath's absence this summer, winning the two Test matches when he has been injured, but Vaughan will be aware that the Australians win two-thirds of the games they play when the fast bowler is in their team.

When Shane Warne is in the opposing team the toss is always vital, and both teams will be keen to bat first should they call correctly. Four of the previous six Test matches here have been won by the side batting first. The Oval pitch rewards those who play good cricket and exposes those who are not up to it, and this surface looks set to do the same.

Before the much anticipated first Ashes Test Vaughan asked his team to go out and enjoy the experience and relish the challenges that it brought. The England captain wanted his players to do this because he believed that such an approach would give them the best chance of playing to their full potential.

It is difficult to believe any of the team took much pleasure from the 239-run drubbing at Lord's and it is hard to accept they have fully appreciated the enormity of what they achieved in the three epic Test matches that followed. Yet Vaughan still wants his players to walk out at the Oval this morning with a smile on their faces, and looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

And so they should. England have nothing to lose over the next five days. They have not won the Ashes yet but the quality of the cricket they have played, and the way in which they have conducted themselves has thrilled and entertained a nation. It would be hugely disappointing for anyone with an interest in English cricket if England were to lose here, but they should be treated as heroes no matter what the result.

"I don't want us to change the way we have played," said Vaughan. "The side is young and they do enjoy their cricket, that must have come across to everyone in the last couple of years. We obviously want them to play with discipline, because that has been one of the most impressive parts of our cricket, but they must enjoy the occasion and not be daunted by it."

England's players are unlikely to have slept well last night yet it is Australia who are under the greatest pressure. They need to win this Test and the careers of several of their squad could come to an end if they fail. And the strain seems to be taking its toll on Ricky Ponting, who appears to be trying to absolve himself from taking the brunt of Australia's anger should his side return home as losers. "I would hate to think if we lost this series it is all my fault," said Ponting. "I have never taken all the accolades when the team has gone well and it would be unfair if it was my fault if we lost. Around the team I would have thought I have done most things right along the way. The plans have all been there but whether its my fault we haven't been able to execute, I am not sure.

"We are all responsible for the way we have played. I am captain but I am not batting for everyone in the side and I am not bowling for everyone. I am trying to point the guys in the right direction."

McGrath replaces Mich-ael Kasprowicz in a team that is otherwise unchanged from Trent Bridge, and Ponting has equated his return as the equivalent of Australia having 12 men.

"It is great to have him in the side," said the Australian captain. "He acts as two bowlers in our team. He is our main strike bowler up front with the new ball, and at the same time you can call on him at any time of the day to bowl some tight overs. He is a hugely valuable player and he has done exceptionally well over the years.

"This is a must-win game for us. It is a final. If we lose the series we will all be very disappointed and we will cop a bit of a hammering back at at home. And maybe we should. We have given it our best shot but we haven't been good enough just yet. But we have one game to change everything. If we win this Test the hammering will be not quite as severe."

England (from): M P Vaughan (capt), M Trescothick, A J Strauss, I R Bell, K P Pietersen, A Flintoff, P D Collingwood, G O Jones (wkt), A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, J M Anderson.

Australia: R T Ponting (capt), J L Langer, M L Hayden, D R Martyn, M J Clarke, S M Katich, A C Gilchrist (wkt), S K Warne, B Lee, G D McGrath, S W Tait.

Man on man: the duels that will decide the fate of the Ashes

MICHAEL VAUGHAN v RICKY PONTING

Since Lord's Vaughan has outmanoeuvred and out-thought his opposite number. Ponting has spent a lot of the summer copying England's tactics but his bowlers have not been able to execute them well.

Prediction: Ashes-winning England captains become legends and Vaughan is set to follow in the footsteps of Gatting, Gower, Brearley and Illingworth.

ANDREW STRAUSS v BRETT LEE

Lee had early success against Strauss. He bowled him out twice in the one-dayers, snaffled him caught and bowled in the first Test and hit him on the head at Old Trafford. Yet Strauss won the battle in Manchester when he scored a 100.

Prediction: Strauss to come out on top.

ANDREW FLINTOFF v ADAM GILCHRIST

Flintoff's plan of bowling round the wicket and his ability to reverse swing the old ball has proved hugely successful against Gilchrist. It has cramped the left-hander for room and he has averaged only 22.5 in the series.

Prediction: Gilchrist is too good to go through a series without contributing.

KEVIN PIETERSEN v SHANE WARNE

Honours are about even between these close friends. Warne has dismissed him a couple of times but Pietersen has also hacked the leg-spinner into the stands on a couple of occasions.

Prediction: The pitch will help Warne and Pietersen could struggle.

Comments