For England to win the Ashes they have to bristle with intent. Their batting, their bowling, their fielding, their body language, everything they do and when they do it all must be positive. Sit in and wait for a breach in the Australians and they will not have a prayer.
As it is, the sides come to The Oval at 1-1 and anything can therefore happen. But it is a far cry from 2005 where England had the upper hand. Whoever bats first has a big advantage and we've said it before and we'll say it again, the new ball is key.
The first thing England have to be positive with is their final XI. My advice is to pick a five-man attack of Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar or Stephen Harmison depending on overhead conditions. I am therefore dropping Stuart Broad – and it's tough on him because he was the pick of the bowlers in Leeds having a plan which he stuck to – Graham Onions and Harmison – but this is a time for boldness.
Flintoff and Anderson will be the side's strike bowlers, and I would rely on them delivering swing and then reverse swing. If Harmison doesn't get the call the spinners will have a big job to do later in the match but the man who must play is Sidebottom. They would be throwing something different at Clarke and I think Sidebottom who has been around for a long time has the ability to do that.
He is a left-armer who will offer something crucially different – bringing the ball into the right-handers.
For right-handed batsmen, that is a challenge, and it will pose a different threat to Michael Clarke, who has been in the nick of his life and has been fundamental to the series. Sidebottom has been around for a long time and has the ability. The only replacement I would half-contemplate is if Anderson wasn't fit I'd pick Onions.
If England do pull it off it will have a lot to do with the forgotten men of cricket. Not the blokes on the field, we can see what they're doing but the backroom boys – medical men – doctors, physios, fitness trainers – selectors and the media liaison guys.
They have all played their part this summer and in the days after the heavy defeat at Leeds. Some people will ask why do we need all these support staff, and say players have got to think for themselves. But these guys are international athletes. The backroom staff have a tremendous part to play in international cricket.
England's medical men have had a huge influence in getting Andrew Flintoff on to the park and offering the guidance that rightly kept him off it at Leeds. Jimmy Anderson has also been under the pump with a tweaked hamstring and he has got through.
The selectors have been under huge scrutiny throughout this series and for obvious reasons because this isn't tiddlywinks. They've done a good job, selecting a good side, and have not strayed from their belief. They've planted their messages well in the media, and haven't panicked. True, at the 11th hour they have dropped Ravi Bopara. I might have been tempted to stick with the same batting line-up but this is exceptional for two reasons (three if you count the position of the series). The first one is that England have lost their No 1 player, Kevin Pietersen – with all that experience and an average of 50 and an aura, probably second only to Flintoff. It left the side in disarray.
The second reason is the nature of the defeat in Leeds. Had they not lost so badly and played so unconvincingly in that Test it would have been different but you just can't ignore that immense downturn in momentum.
The media relations in the wake of the bitter defeat have been clinical. They have shaped the strategy by setting the agenda because everyone jumped on the front shoe after the loss. Everyone has played a part. Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss were honest and consistent about the performance. There was no time in their reaction for excuses but there was a cool, calm, collected attitude and there was no hint of panic in their voice.
Then it was announced on Monday that Flintoff would be available for selection. That was brilliant timing, a stroke of genius from the craftsmen behind the scenes because if they had waited two or three days there would have been a frenzy.
In this country the media is a battleground, a fight for territory. In 2005, from the moment that we lost that Twenty20 game, the media was virtually an 11th man. The media can help or destroy. It vilifies or praises.
England controlled the build-up, briefing the selectors and reacting with the reporters. Even the Premier League played its role perfectly because it has become such a part of the fabric of the nation that it provided a distraction from the humiliation heaped on England's cricket team.
As for Australia's selection, I'm being much more conservative: a four-man attack, the same four-man attack as at Headingley. We don't have to win the match. We need to bat well once and then bowl a truckload of overs and apply scoreboard pressure. It will be business as usual and the three key processes will be patience, partnerships and pressure.
Debuts are never easy, but Trott faces a baptism of fire
Having made the key change in a batting order that has been so grey it has had leaden skies over its head for the entire series, the question is whether they have made the right choice.
Jonathan Trott is a massive call and if it comes off it will be the greatest selection of all time. If it doesn't work the headlines allied to the fact that he was born and bred in South Africa will be predictable: Off you trot.
I can only tell you what I was like on my debut. I was as nervous as 10 men, so nervous that I could barely breathe, I used a lot of the same words as he did, that nature will take its course; that it's just a game of cricket.
That is a huge cliché but the man behind it is very, very nervous. The thing is there is a great difference between hoping and knowing. After 80 Test matches I could shape up to the world and say, 'I know how to get Test match hundreds' because I'd done it. It wasn't a case of hoping. But Trott is sitting in his room hoping that he has a good game of cricket.
He will have had people coming up to him all week and telling him to play his natural game. If it's good enough to play for your county and average a hundred it's good enough for us. This is 100 per cent true but the tension is still there.
On the day when your heart is jumping out of your chest and you can see it on the ground beating you will do one of two things: fight or flight. And like hundreds before him, so will Trott. We don't know and he doesn't know which it will be.
Freddie can be proud of himself
And then there is Andrew Flintoff, playing his last Test match for England. When he comes off the field he is going to feel an enormous sense of pride at the way he has galvanised his nation.
Adam Gilchrist said that he would much rather have played 40 Tests that actually meant something than 140 that meant nothing. Even if Freddie had played only five Test matches that meant something I reckon that cricket in this country would have a lot to thank him for. Not only is he English born and bred but he has also created a template for an iconic series of Test match cricket to live and breathe.
In 2005 he was a huge part of an England team that took on and beat an Australia who were at the top of their game. He is a one-off. He has a balance of life with three kids and he may get four or five years out of one-day cricket if he is managed properly.
He has an honesty and a charisma and a quality that people can relate to: he loves a beer, he loves a laugh, he is human, he's not trying to be something he's not. He has remained true to his roots and people will always gravitate towards that truth, which is the ultimate ingredient in a landscape of Test cricket that can sometimes appear barren.
Trescothick still has the X-factor
In all the hoo-ha of last week when so many suggestions were being made about England's team for this match, Marcus Trescothick stood out. By Monday night he had made himself unavailable.
I think it's very difficult to remove the carrot in front of your eyes once you have seen it and had a taste of it. It really shows an incredible sense of character and resolve and also an impressive sacrifice of oneself for his country.
Even if he wasn't entertaining a return, to come out the way he did and just be honest and say he was still trying to recover and had spoken to his wife about it was completely unselfish. The unselfishness of someone like Trescothick was a huge reason for their success in 2005.
Then, I felt like not just him but that entire group of people played for the team. It was the only time in my career that I saw England do that to that extent – and it's the X-factor to the Australian cricket team.Reuse content