A nation denied a prized trophy for 16 years stands on the brink of its recapture. Australians have been startled by the passion of their hosts. In their time of deprivation the English have realised how much they care. Australians must just hope they don't get carried away and win the ruddy thing.
Of course the rivals have much in common and much that sets them apart. Having fought side by side with the English in three wars, Australians were displeased to discover during the Second World War that they were expendable. As far as sport is concerned the rivalry has pitted hot against cold, dry against damp, new against old, brash against subtle and, often, attack against defence. Here England have produced a shrewd mixture of aggression and cleverness.
Now comes the final match. Having taken the lead, England have a crucial decision to take. Simon Jones can be replaced by a batsman or a bowler. By sticking with their squad, the selectors have kept their nerves. Now they must take the next step. England must go for the win. Defensive thinking seldom works. Paul Collingwood could replace Ian Bell but not Jones.
Not for the first time the battles of the new ball will be crucial. England have been winning most of them. Marcus Trescothick has been superb. The opener led the counterattack in Birmingham. If anything, his handling of the fast bowler Glenn McGrath at Old Trafford was even more important. If the burly left-hander leads the way then half the battle has been won. If not, Australian hopes will rise because the England middle order remains open to attack.
Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer will be determined to invigorate their partnership. Doubtless it is a small matter, but they could start by walking out together. Encouragingly, Hayden has been scoring heavily in the practice matches. Nothing cheers up batsmen more than runs. Langer has batted splendidly but must stop popping catches to short leg.
England have made the Australians work for their runs. Hardly any overs have been bowled by part-timers. England have fielded five bowlers and their opponents have not occupied the crease long enough to wear them out. Although he has missed a few attacking opportunities, the captain Michael Vaughan has set clever defensive fields. Whereas India put their mid-off level with the stumps, Vaughan has pushed his 20 yards back, and placed another man at short cover. Close series can be decided by details.
Defensive fields are a product of aggressive batting, shortened boundaries and contemporary bats, which are light and thick. Eventually the thickness of the wood will be restricted. Of course the density of the bloke using the bat can also be a problem.
Victory alone will suffice for Australia, a consideration that may help to liberate minds. England will miss Jones, who has disrupted several Australian innings. Swing has been one of the main differences between these sides. Remarkably, Shane Warne has been another. In five days it will be over. England deserve to take the spoils but Australia have fought to the last in every match of this Ashes series and will fight again this week.
Vaughan's men must keep their eyes on the ball, not the heavens. Predictions? God alone knows! What do you want, blood?!Reuse content