The Ashes Fifth Test Preview and Prediction: Can England Get On The Board?

Steve Smith in action ahead of the Ashes Fifth Test.
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Hobart is set to host its first ever Ashes Test with the tourists arriving in Tasmania after a bruising campaign so far but probably just about as confident as they have been since the first ball of the series. Australia, however, have a formidable record in day-night Tests. Read on for our full The Ashes Fifth Test Preview and Prediction:

The Ashes Fifth Test Preview and Prediction

The Series So Far

England, or at least those in the English cricket establishment, seemed to have confidence that if they couldn’t win the Ashes they could at least avoid losing them. It’s hard to know quite what that confidence was based on, except perhaps Australia’s underperformance in their last series against India which saw them lose 2-1 and suffer a first defeat at the Gabba in over 30 years. But underperformance is the key word there. Nor do England have much in common with India.

It took all of one ball to prove as much with Mitchell Starc shattering Rory Burns’ stumps to set the tone for the series. Australia won heavily at the Gabba, then the Adelaide Oval and then in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, where England’s fortunes reached their nadir as they were bowled out for just 68 to lose by an innings with Scott Boland taking 6/7 on debut. That innings defeat came despite Australia’s unremarkable first innings score of 267.

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But England, belatedly, showed some grit and determination at the SCG. Johnny Bairstow scored the tourists first century of the series with a valiant 113 as England clung on grimly for a draw to end Australia’s hopes of a whitewash. The extent of that achievement should not be overstated, they were outplayed throughout the match by Australia and would almost certainly have been beaten if not for the overs lost to rain over the course of the five days. But it is something for the team to build on.

Expected Teams

For Australia the big question is whether Marcus Harris keeps his place or Usman Khawaja replaces him. The Australians have traditionally been reluctant to change a winning team and Harris has improved gradually over the course of the series, playing a match-winning innings at the MCG. But it is hard to ignore Khawaja’s twin-tons at the SCG and Harris doesn’t have nearly as much credit in the bank as Travis Head, who Khawaja replaced in Sydney after the South Australian tested positive for covid.

The rest of the team more or less picks itself. David Warner will open, with Marnus Labuschagne in at three and Steve Smith at four. Head will bat five, with Cameron Green at six and Alex Carey coming in at seven as well as taking the gloves. Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc will certainly play, and Boland, who has ten wickets in two games, will most likely keep his place after his excellent start to his Test career, particularly as Josh Hazlewood is unlikely to be fit enough to play. Nathan Lyon will provide a spin-bowling option.

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England look likely to try their third opening combination of the series with Rory Burns, who probably should have been stuck with, replacing Haseeb Hameed who has not been able to buy a run since the first Test. Zak Crawley’s place at the top of the order, meanwhile, is about as assured as anyone’s after a spritely 77 in Sydney. Dawid Malan has been short of runs in the last two games, but will play, whilst Joe Root will be hoping to finally score that elusive Ashes century in Australia.

With Ben Stokes and Johnny Bairstow possibly out injured, and Jos Buttler now back in England, Ollie Pope will probably return to the side whilst Sam Billings looks to be in line for a Test debut. Dan Lawrence provides another option in the middle order, as does Chris Woakes though he rarely bats above eight. Ollie Robinson may be rested having looked increasingly weary, but Stuart Broad and Mark Wood are almost locks after impressive showings in Sydney. James Anderson will like his chances with the pink ball. Jack Leach should also keep his place.

Prediction

England have every right to take heart from their performance in Sydney. They could have folded, but they didn’t and that was enough to earn them a draw. But they did come perilously close to defeat and their batting line-up continues to look fragile.  It would certainly be a surprise if the Australian quicks did not back themselves to knock England over cheaply if they can bowl at them under lights, with Starc particularly formidable with the pink ball and Cummins due some more reward.

The toss will, as usual with pink-ball matches, probably have an outsize importance, but the frank reality is that whilst Australia can most likely win this match whatever the outcome of the toss, one rather feels that England need to win it. That rather sums up where their cricket has been at, not just on this tour but over the course of the year. Expect the final Test of the series, and the first in Tasmanian history, to end with a comfortable victory for the hosts.

Prediction: Australian win.

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