England finally got something on the board when they gamely salvaged a draw in the fourth Ashes Test, but trying to make a case for them ending the series on a high and winning the fifth Test in Hobart next up is a tough ask.
Overall, it’s been a fairly miserable few months for England Down Under as they surrendered the Ashes with a whimper when being comprehensively outplayed in the first three Tests.
The fact they managed to regain a modicum of pride in Sydney to draw will hardly appease many as, understandably, Australia may have taken their eye off the ball with the main work already completed in style by the home side – who let’s not forget, were only one wicket away from another win.
Repeat Failings Costing England
What’s left then is an intriguing match-up for the final Test where, again, the tourists may be more motivated than the hosts in Tasmania when the action gets underway at approximately 4am on Friday morning. The problem for England is that repeat failings in all four previous matches suggests a pattern the visitors cannot put down to bad luck or a few players being out of form.
A top-order collapse has been a familiar phrase associated with England in this series and it’s stating the obvious when saying they need their so-called established batters to stand up and deliver for them if they are to stand any chance of making it a more respectable 3-1 final scoreline. The fact it took until the fourth Test for Jonny Bairstow to hit England’s first century of the tour merely underlines the fact that the batters have been seriously underperforming.
Captain Joe Root’s position as leader of the team has come under more scrutiny due to the weak nature of the displays so far, while some questionable decisions in the field have only led to those calling for him to be relieved of the captaincy duties to shout a bit louder.
Despite the just criticism coming his way, Root still remains England’s most likely source of a big scoreline. Even though it seems a lifetime ago, it is worth remembering he had come into the series seriously in form. It’s also worth noting the skipper has three half-centuries to his name in the series, two in the first innings, even if a three-figure score continues to elude him Down Under. He’s a tempting 7/4 to be England’s top-scorer in their first innings.
Stokes to Shine Again?
Aside from Root, all-rounder Ben Stokes is one of the few England players who can probably say they have performed somewhere near their best in recent weeks. However, he’s an injury doubt for the fifth Test and if he doesn’t make it then England’s chances take another hit.
If he is passed fit, backing Stokes to be the tourists’ top-scorer in their first innings will appeal to some at a price of 9/2, especially when considering he made scores of 60 and 66 last time out in Sydney.
Another factor to consider for the Hobart finale is that both teams are likely to make changes. England have decisions to make with wicketkeeper Jos Buttler having already flown home and Sam Billings called up as his replacement, while, like Stokes, Bairstow is an injury doubt with the thumb issue he battled on gamely with in the fourth Test. There’s also talk Haseeb Hameed will be replaced after a very underwhelming series for him so far.
For Australia, they have Travis Head and Jhye Richardson available again for selection, while some reports suggest Marcus Harris could be left out to accommodate Usman Khawaja in the XI after his stunning Sydney exploits.
The 35-year-old became the first player since Ricky Ponting in the corresponding fixture in 2006 to hit twin centuries and his heroics there means he may be a good shout to be Australia’s top batter in their first innings at 5/1 if he keeps his place.
Overall, it will all be about recovering more pride for England but, sadly, they’ve proven to not be up to the task so far and Australia reaffirming their dominance on home soil with a fourth Test win from five looks the way to go at 4/6.
*All odds correct at time of writing.