The Inner Sanctum’s Fifth Ashes Test Preview

The Inner Sanctum's Fifth Ashes Test Preview (Photos: cricket.com.au)

After holding on for a draw in a rain-affected Sydney Test, England now heads to Hobart with confidence knowing that they can at least compete against Australia.

The home team on the other hand will be looking to finish off the Test summer on a high, attempting to remarkably avoid their second-worst home Ashes series result since the turn of the century.

Big Picture

After three tests of hardly putting up a fight against the Australian’s, England was able to valiantly hold on for a draw at the SCG, with the old guard of Stuart Broad and James Anderson seeing out the last three overs of the match with the bat.

Whilst the draw doesn’t ultimately mean much in the grand scheme of things, the result would have done the English squad’s confidence a world of good.

They now head to Hobart with a newfound belief in their ability to compete against the home team, but also with a magnitude of injuries to have to deal with.

Australia on the other hand heads to Hobart after coming so close to keeping dreams of a whitewash alive, and whilst they would be unlikely to say it the result at the SCG would have stung.

Fortunately, they have the opportunity to head down to Hobart and give the home crowd a perfect experience in the state’s first-ever Ashes Test.

Similar to England the Australians do have some selection headaches, with a few niggling injuries, Travis Head’s return, and Usman Khawaja’s man of the match performance in Sydney all making chief selector George Bailey’s job exceptionally hard.

Head curator Marcus Pamplin has also promised a green bowler-friendly pitch, one that hasn’t seen test cricket since 2016 when Australia was beaten by an innings against South Africa.

Key Players

Marnus Labuschagne

After starting off the series exceptionally well, the number one ranked Test batsman has struggled a bit in the last two tests.

Scores of 1, 28, and 29 over his last three innings have been disappointing by his standards, with the Australian batsmen scoring under 50 just twice in his previous eight innings before Melbourne.

The inclusion of Mark Wood at the MCG after he was rested in Adelaide has spelled trouble for the Queenslander, with the Englishman getting him out on all three possible occasions since.

With David Warner’s form dropping off over the last two tests, Steve Smith performing below his best, and the uncertainty surrounding who else will open for Australia, it is crucial that Labuschagne is able to dig in on what is being described as a bowler friendly pitch and gets a big score.

Labusagne is averaging 47.67 this series is his lowest since before the 2019 Ashes, something he is guaranteed to want to improve by a few runs to reach the half century.

Steve Smith

Whilst Smith has not had a bad Ashes by others’ standards, Australia’s number four would likely be disappointed with his contributions to this series.

His average of 36.16 is his lowest in an Ashes series since 2010-11, his debut Ashes series, which is surprisingly only three runs lower than his overall average since his remarkable 2019 away Ashes campaign.

Whilst Australia has performed well despite his inconsistent contributions, Smith standing up and scoring big would go a long way to securing a 4-0 series win for the home side.

Personally, a century would also be welcome for Smith, with this being the first Ashes series in 10 years where the former world number one hasn’t scored triple digits.

Who knows, after his bowling display on a day five SCG pitch and a series average of 10 he may even bowl a few overs in Hobart as well.

Zak Crawley

After only being recalled to the English side for the Boxing Day Test match, Crawley has had a decent series with the bat so far.

His first three contributions of 12, 5, and 18 were disappointing, however, his 77 off 100 balls in the fourth innings at Sydney was an impressive reminder that Crawley is a player worth investing in for England.

His platform allowed England to survive for the draw and considering that he used up 100 Australian deliveries and they only had one wicket remaining at the end of day five it is clear to see how vital his innings was.

Whilst he will likely not be able to rely on either Hameed or Burns to bat deep with him, it is crucial if England is any chance of winning this test match that he is able to see off the new ball and score big.

In a series of disappointments for the English, Crawley’s innings was a ray of hope for the future, let’s see if he is able to prove in Hobart that it was not a one-off.

Dawid Malan

After batting brilliantly for England in the first two Tests of the series, Malan’s form has completely dropped off in Melbourne and Sydney, averaging just 5.25 over those fixtures.

This has included three scores under 10, with his series average now resting just above 26. The dip in form has been extremely disappointing for the English team, with Malan and Root’s partnerships being their only shining light in the first few tests.

Whilst others including Bairstow and Stokes have picked up the slack, he has still exposed Joe Root to a new ball far too often lately.

With Bairstow and Stokes both likely to play with injuries it is vital that Malan is able to find a bit of form in Hobart, and at least stay around long enough so that the middle-order batsmen are seeing an older ball.

With Crawley’s most recent innings there is a real chance that the pair may be able to form a big platform for the rest of the English lineup to build upon, with Malan likely the key behind it.

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Key Match Up

Mark Wood vs Marnus Labuschagne

Since being recalled for the Boxing Day Test, Mark Wood has well and truly had Marnus Labuschagne’s number. The English seamer has bowled 52 balls to him, going for just 17 runs whilst picking up his wicket three times.

It is the first time that Labuschagne has had an issue with one specific bowler, and it is almost guaranteed that the Australian is doing everything in his power to change the narrative.

It was clear in the second innings that he even altered his stance against Wood, moving across to his off-side much more than he traditionally would. This also didn’t work, with the seamer knicking off the Australian yet again.

Getting Labuschagne out early is crucial if England is any chance of winning a Test in Australia for the first time since 2011, and if the last few matches are anything to go by the matchup between these two is going to be a headliner in Hobart.

Players to Watch

Sam Billings

It has just been that type of series for England where a keeper who wasn’t even selected in the squad for the first four matches of the series is in line for his test debut come the fifth.

Whilst Billings hasn’t officially been announced as making his debut, injuries to Buttler and Bairstow make it exceptionally likely that he will be presented with his English cap come Friday.  

Whilst he has not been playing much red-ball cricket lately Billings has been lighting up the Big Bash League for Sydney Thunder, where he averaged over forty from nine innings.

Over 74 first-class games, he averages just under 35 with a strike rate above 60, so expect fireworks from him with the bat, and a stable pair of hands behind the stumps.

No matter how he ends up performing, the Englishman should be box office and a must-watch for fans of both sides.

Cameron Green

Every Australian has been waiting for Cameron Green to explode with the bat all summer, and in the home side’s second innings at the SCG their prayers were answered.

After a disappointing tour batting at six, he was able to stand up when it really mattered in the second innings at the SCG, scoring 74 runs in a near 200 run partnership with Usman Khawaja after Australia were limping at 4/86.

This batting partnered with his brilliant bowling so far this series is exactly what Australia is after, and what has made many believe that he may be the next elite international all-rounder.

If Khawaja replaces Harris at the top of the order, it should give Green some more freedom with the bat, something that he has been craving for all series.

The West Australian was also able to pick up two wickets with the pink ball in Adelaide and has been bowling express pace this series, so expect him to be a key factor with the ball as well this test match.

Injuries

Australia

Whilst Australia’s batsmen seem to be injury-free, it is their fast bowlers who have been struggling a bit to stay on the park over this series.

Unfortunately, Josh Hazlewood’s Ashes appears to be over, with the Australian camp instead opting to make sure that he is fully fit for a big 2022.

Breakout star Scott Boland also had some injury concerns after the fourth test when he fell awkwardly bowling in the first innings. Whilst he was cleared of major injury, the Victorian reportedly played through with the help of painkillers and is in doubt for this test.

Jhye Richardson is the obvious choice to replace Boland, however, after missing the third and fourth test with a minor leg injury it remains to be seen if even he will be fit to line up on Friday.

England

After getting through the series relatively injury-free up until Sydney, all of England’s injuries came at once as Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler were all hurt during the match at the SCG.

Buttler has already been flown back to England with a broken finger and has been replaced in the squad by by Sam Billings.

Star all-rounder Ben Stokes will also likely play as a specialist batsman after sustaining a side strain bowling on day two, whilst Jonny Bairstow will continue to nurse an impact injury to his right thumb.

It is suspected that both Stokes and Bairstow will play through the pain, so as to avoid a complete reshuffle of their batting lineup.

If rumours are true James Anderson will also likely not play in Hobart after three consecutive matches for the 39-year-old. Bringing an end to the legendary seamers work down under.

Predicted XI

Australia: Usman Khawaja/Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Jhye Richardson/Michael Neser

England: Zak Crawley, Rory Burns, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings (wk), Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad  

The Squads

Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner

England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Sam Billings, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

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