To beat Australia at the Gabba tomorrow, England will have to bring their A game and then some. The fixture will be imbued with sadness, being played as it is for the victims of the Queensland floods only a fortnight ago.
The memory will drive on Australia and at their batting helm they have Shane Watson, not only their best player but a sporting emblem of the disaster. Watson has emerged as a colossus in one-day cricket, confirmed by his unforgettably staunch innings of 161 not out in the first of the seven matches in this series.
He was nominated this week as one of the best 25 limited-overs cricketers of all time and while there might be an argument about that – he thought it was some an error – there can be no debate about his resplendent form lately. It has been reinforced because Queensland is his home state.
When the waters were at their zenith, Watson feared for his family and friends in Ipswich, one of the places to take the brunt of the storms, and though they survived intact many of their homes were flooded. His mind, as he admitted, was seldom on cricket. But that will be different tomorrow when cricket and disaster combine to provide funds to rebuild the state and its major city.
"It's going to be a very emotional day and hopefully that can help pull us over the line and win the series," said Watson. "One of the very special things that we have playing for Australia is the opportunity to put smiles on kids' faces even if it's for a split second, to take their minds off the deep-rooted scars for the young kids who have been so badly affected. We are in a very lucky position to try and make some difference. It's great that we can show our support because it's been devastating for families out here."
Watson will want to win this game more than any of the other 121 one-day internationals he has played in. England are only too aware of the peculiar significance of the occasion – otherwise merely the fifth match in another series – and the find of their tour, Chris Tremlett, said yesterday: "I think when you step over the line in any international game it is about playing cricket. It will be in the backs of our minds, and our hearts go out to those affected but the job in hand is to play against Australia. On the field we'll be going as hard as any other game.
"I imagine it will be quite emotional. It was pretty shocking what happened here, I didn't like to watch too much because it gets you a bit emotional and upset watching those things. But it seems quite surreal now because walking around it's almost as if it never happened. The Aussie cricketers seem to have friends and family who have been affected. We have tried to help out and hopefully it will be a great day and people will get a lot out of it."
England must decide whether to stick with the seven batsman-four bowler policy that served them so adequately at Adelaide on Wednesday when they reduced the series deficit to 3-1. The alternative is to play a fourth seamer in addition to Tremlett, Jimmy Anderson and Ajmal Shahzad who would presumably be Chris Woakes.
In turn that would entail omitting Paul Collingwood, who regained a semblance of form, no more, in Adelaide, or Ian Bell, who has been short of runs in this series and one of the chief culprits in England's list of soft dismissals. But Bell is so accomplished that he should play in any side and the reasonable bowling of Jonathan Trott on Wednesday may save him.
Tremlett is a certainty, something that would have seemed impossible to say three months ago. He has been a revelation to all on this tour, including himself, and his 17 wickets in three Ashes Tests will be imperishable. In view of his feats, he is unfortunate to have been overlooked for the World Cup.
"I am disappointed but I have had a lot of highs this winter," he said. All I can do is prove my worth in these last three games and if there are injuries or other setbacks hopefully I can come into the squad. It has been a crazy few months. All these surprises keep happening and sometimes I still pinch myself."
Probable teams: Australia: Watson, Haddin (wkt), Marsh, Clarke (capt), White, Hussey, Smith, Hastings, Lee, Doherty, Bollinger.
England: Strauss (capt), Prior (wkt), Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood, Yardy, Anderson, Shahzad, Woakes, Tremlett.
*The next two Ashes series are to be held back-to-back – five Tests in England in the summer of 2013 followed by five in Australia in 2013-14 – in order to avoid playing the series in the same winter as the World Cup (to be held in Australia in 2015), as has happened this year. The subsequent series in England will take place in 2015, according to the ECB and Cricket Australia.
Questions thrown up by England's one-day endeavours
The one-day series in Australia has produced as many questions as answers for England. With the World Cup looming next month Stephen Brenkley offers some answers
Q: Should England play six bowlers or five?
A: OK, they took an almighty risk in Adelaide on Wednesday by playing only four front-line bowlers (Jonathan Trott and Paul Collingwood made up the fifth) and can ill-afford to do so in different conditions. Their problem remains Collingwood who they need as a bowler but may no longer require as a batsman. Equally, Trott may not be up to it against good sides as the sixth bowling option. It is a conundrum they have to resolve in the next fortnight. Whether they like it or not they must stick with Collingwood – but as a sixth bowling option, not a fifth.
Q: What should they do about the batting order?
A: It seems that the selectors are married to the idea of opening the batting with Matt Prior, with no prospect of imminent divorce. Ian Bell, however, may have been the best choice as opener and he seems to be doing a passable impression of stewing in his own juice at No 5. Kevin Pietersen is in the doldrums again, Eoin Morgan is out of form and unless two of those three find their touch quickly England's World Cup campaign will be short. They are also stuck with Trott at No 3 after his canny adhesiveness in this series and that is not something they necessarily envisaged. The solution is to open with Bell and the unthinkable, therefore, is to omit Pietersen or the man of the last year, Morgan, in order to make room for a fifth bowler.
Q: Should they play two spinners?
A: What has been demonstrated completely is the importance of Graeme Swann to England's cause. His ability to take wickets in the middle overs of innings – whereas Mike Yardy merely dries up runs – is inestimable. Swann is making positive noises that his knee and lower back, now being rested at home, will recover in time for the World Cup. They need to because the replacement pair of Yardy and James Tredwell would fill nobody with dread, least of all Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar wherever the group match between England and India is eventually played. The only solution here is to pray fervently for Swann's rapid recovery.Reuse content