The time has almost come for Australia’s tour of England to end. It will be a merciful release. The arrival of autumn and the familiarity of the teams have conspired to lend a perfunctory air to the later proceedings.
There is a feeling, right or wrong, that these matches, despite the full and enthusiastic houses, are being played only because they are in the schedule. They are being used, by both teams, as a kind of trial run for the World Cup in 2015 – who’s up for it and who’s not – but most observers are already talking far more about the next Ashes starting in November.
Only one of the three matches so far in the NatWest Series has been played to a conclusion and the sponsors, while probably wishing for a more fitting valediction, may be delighted that they are jumping ship to be associated only with Twenty20 in future.
The fourth match will be played today in Cardiff with forecasts suggesting that it may at least proceed as planned. Both teams are likely to be unchanged. England will persist with Michael Carberry at the top of the order. This may be the correct thing to do because he has to be offered sufficient opportunity but it is difficult to see Carberry featuring in the World Cup.
Perhaps of more relevance to that tournament may be whether to continue with Kevin Pietersen (above) as opener when Alastair Cook and Ian Bell return. It will be exercising the mind of the coach, Ashley Giles, although Pietersen has some work to do yet.
All this stopping and starting and the melancholy attached to the contest has done little good for the game. It is difficult to rebuff the notion that the international season goes on too long. True, the 2005 Ashes, the greatest series of all, did not end until 12 September. But that was that, there was nothing to follow.
There is inevitably a feeling that the real business has been conducted when limited-overs matches follow the Tests and that is more pronounced after the Ashes. Even avid one-day fans and incorrigible T20 aficionados must wonder what is going on when they know that everything in this English summer was geared to the Ashes.
Fourth ODI: Details
K P Pietersen, J E Root, I J L Trott, E J G Morgan (capt), R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wk), B A Stokes, C J Jordan, J C Tredwell, S T Finn, W B Rankin.
Australia S R Watson, S E Marsh, A J Finch, M J Clarke (capt), G J Bailey, A C Voges, M S Wade (wk), J P Faulkner, M G Johnson, C J McKay, Fawad Ahmed.
Umpires Ravi Sundaram (India), Rob Bailey (Eng)
Television Sky Sports 2, 09.30-18.55
Weather Sunny spells with possible showers later. Max temp: 15C
Odds Eng 5/4 Aus 8/13