Pity the poor bloody bowlers. They will arrive at The Oval this week in a state of exhaustion, physically drained, mentally spent, held together by string and sealing wax. That applies to both sides. By the time the Fifth Test is done they will have played all-consuming, high-level cricket for 23 days out of 46. Between the first and second and third and fourth matches there was a gap of only three days each time.
No wonder that Jimmy Anderson, who began the series in irrepressible mood, looked so weary in the victory at Durham which saw the home side clinch the series last Monday. Anderson ended the game a peripheral figure – apart from taking the winning catch – as Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan assembled the partnership which broke Australia.
For Bresnan, the titanic effort of the pulsating fourth evening was too much. He ended the match with a stress fracture of his lower back which will force him to miss the rest of the summer and perhaps beyond.
James Pattinson, Australia's strike bowler who arrived on this tour with such high prospects, has already gone home suffering a similar injury. Bowling has always been hard work, and nobody in this series will come close to delivering the 2,528 balls of Maurice Tate for England in 1928-29 (when there were eight-ball overs in Australia) but the five Tests in that series, though timeless, were played over a period of 108 days.
Neither Anderson nor Broad will feature much if at all in the one-day series which follows the Tests. Broad, as captain, will have to be fielded in the two Twenty20 matches, especially with the World Twenty20 being staged next March, but nobody will have been a more reluctant skipper.
Some unfamiliar names can be expected in the limited-overs squads, which may not please either local supporters – at Manchester, for instance, when Anderson does not appear – or sponsors. But something has to give.
There are five more Ashes Tests starting in Australia in November and schlepping around the one-day circuit would only increase the chances of harm. It is a constant battle to ensure bowlers make the starting line.
The difficulties can be deduced from the disinclination to allow England's medical team to discuss the issue. But it is evident that the bowlers are being expected to play too much high-pressure cricket in too short a period of time, and that they have to be managed carefully. Graeme Swann, the off-spinner, can be included in that as well.
With the Ashes being what they are, they are the priority. Next year the approach may change. Most of England's effort then will be directed towards the World Cup in Australia in 2015 and selection planning is likely to be worked out backwards from there. This will be easier to do since England will play only eight Test matches in 2014. Everything after that will be focused on one-day cricket and there is no winter Test tour for that reason.
After Bresnan's withdrawal was confirmed, the selectors decided to delay the announcement of their squad by a day. Not that it is likely to make much difference.
Chris Tremlett will be invited to resume his Test career after a break of 19 months embracing 23 matches and Steve Finn, who played the first Test of the series, may be added to the squad in case of further injury. Graham Onions, eternally on the fringes, must be cursing his luck having sustained a broken little finger while playing for Durham. If there is anything worse for a bowler than picking up an injury through bowling it is picking up one through not bowling.
The last time that England won four matches in a series against Australia was in 1978-79, when they prevailed 5-1. But that was utterly misleading since it was against a severely depleted team, with more than 20 of the country's leading players having joined the breakaway World Series Cricket.
The occasion before that was in 1928-29. Their two opportunities to win four at home came in successive series, in 1977 and 1981, when in both years the final match at The Oval was drawn.
If the weather holds (and a heatwave is forecast) it is difficult to see this match as a draw. The sort of pitches on which the series has been played as well as the state of the batting suggests that wickets will fall.
Australia must be bewildered. They have had first- innings leads in three of the four matches, and lost two of those. It has been their shortcomings as much as England's strengths which have provoked that.
England are used to winning and are unbeaten in 12 matches, their best run since Michael Vaughan's side went undefeated in 13 in 2004. Australia have not won in eight. Both of those figures are likely to increase by one this week.
Hughes ahead in battle for No 3
Darren Lehmann said at the end of the Fourth Test in Durham, after Australia had surrendered the Ashes for the third time in a row, that only the captain, Michael Clarke, and Chris Rogers were assured of their places in the top order ahead of the final Test at The Oval this week, writes Andrew Tong.
When bad light brought play to a premature end in the match against England Lions at Northampton yesterday, none of the other batsmen had stuck their hands up, or their bats, to stake their claim.
The tourists ended up on 227 for 6, chasing 270 in what became a one-innings game after the England development team had declared on their overnight score of 269 for 7.
The focus of attention was on Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja, who were essentially battling it out for the No 3 spot. Hughes, who lost his place after the Second Test at Lord's, made an obdurate 30 off 92 balls but might have scored more freely on a blameless pitch. He finally played on to Keith Barker after being peppered with short balls throughout his innings.
At least Hughes had hung around. Khawaja, the man in possession of that first-drop slot, was caught behind off Ben Stokes after hitting a solitary boundary. Meanwhile Shane Watson and David Warner both missed out on half-centuries but are likely to keep their places.Reuse content