Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground (New South Wales)
Date: 3-7 January 2014
Time: Midnight (GMT)
The fifth and final test of an Ashes tour to forget for England kicks off at the SCG with the hosts just one victory away from a famous whitewash. Despite engineering a dominant position at one point during the Boxing Day test some very average cricket from England ensured they remain winless on this tour in what was perhaps their most harrowing defeat to date. Andy Flower has stated that he wants to remain in charge of the England team as they embark on a rebuilding phase without the likes of Graeme Swann and most likely Jonathan Trott. More peripheral players including Michael Carberry and Monty Panesar may also see their international careers curtailed after less than impressive performances at the MCG. Whatever team the visitors put out for this test the one certainty is that they’ll face an uphill task to avoid the embarrassment of a second 5-0 reverse down under in seven years. As usual the Sydney test will host Jane McGrath day on the tests third day, where both players and spectators are encouraged to wear pink in support of the McGrath foundation, set up by former Australian fast-bowler Glenn McGrath in support of breast cancer sufferers after his wife Jane died from the illness in 2008.
Australia are set to go with the same eleven that has been so successful over the series’ first four matches, a group of players that have been dubbed the ‘Unchangeables’ by the Australian press. Against all odds both Michael Clarke and Ryan Harris have stayed fit for the entire series which bodes well for the future, as does the performance with the bat in Melbourne from the slightly under fire Chris Rodgers. His century has likely earned him a spot on the plane for the tour to South Africa in a few months time, while number three batsman Shane Watson looks to have recovered from a groin strain suffered at the MCG.
Likely team: Rodgers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon
England could ring the changes once more for the final test with opening batsman Michael Carberry the most likely player to lose his place in the team. Joe Root could move up to partner Alistair Cook in the same role he filled during the summer series, which would mean Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance will his debut at five. Monty Panesar was already on the verge of being dropped before he pulled a calf muscle during training which means either Kent off-spinner James Tredwell or Durham leggie Scott Borthwick will fill his position. Tall fast bowlers Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn also stand a good chance of replacing the ineffective Tim Bresnan in the bowling attack.
Likely team: Cook (c), Root, Bell, Pietersen, Ballance, Stoke, Bairstow (wk), Borthwick, Broad, Rankin, Anderson
Pitch and Weather
Famed for being a spin bowlers paradise the SCG is no longer as conducive to spin as it once was. Now more similar to other wickets across Australia there’s likely to be some early assistance for the pace-men before the deck flattens out and becomes ideal to bat on. Reports suggest there is an even covering of grass on the wicket, so the likes of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle will be looking to extract the same sideways movement they’ve been able to garner throughout the series.
There’s a slight chance of showers on both of the first two days however apart from that the weather is set fair and temperatures should hover around the mid to late twenties, making a result likely.
Aleem Dar and Marias Erasmus
England looked well and truly shot at the conclusion of the Boxing Day test match and Alistair Cook’s men need a miracle to turn things around and save face with a victory at the SCG. The changes that are likely to be made to the XI hardly inspire confidence, with Ballance, Borthwick and Rankin all rookies at test level. When you factor in the fact that Jonny Bairstow is keeping wicket, poorly at that, and batting at seven a lower-middle order reading Ballance, Stokes and Bairstow looks incredibly fragile. Captain Cook looks a broken man attempting to paper over the cracks that appeared following the departure of Jonathan Trott and the retirement of Graeme Swann, which in turn would appear to have affected his own performances with the willow. Sadly I can’t see any other outcome than an Australian win, and to be perfectly honest I’d be surprised if the visitors even take the match into the final day.