Who is going to win the Ashes? Australia, no question, and by a 2-1 margin in my opinion because I think Ricky Ponting’s team will beat England at the Oval even though a draw is all they need to retain the urn.
The Australians have hit form at just the right time, and the most important factor for them is that their bowlers upped their performance at Headingley. The batsmen have been good all series, but the key for Ponting is that, finally, the bowling unit looks to have come together.
Australia will no doubt look hard at the pitch at the Oval before they make their final decision, but the last place in the bowling line-up is clearly between Nathan Hauritz, Stuart Clark and Brett Lee. In my view, it is Clark who should play because I reckon Australia should keep the four who played at Headingley together.
It is a very close call for the last bowling place, behind Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle, and if Lee was chosen then I wouldn’t see it as a risk.
He got through some overs at Canterbury at the weekend, against the England Lions, and bowled at a good pace, with no reaction afterwards. But, as I say, I’m not sure I would want to tinker with things at this stage.
As for England, there will be a lot of attention on Andrew Flintoff, for obvious reasons, and Ian Bell faces a huge test as the man chosen to fill the vital number three position.
But one player very rarely wins a Test match on his own – it is more about the entire team executing their skills better as a group than the opposition. It is quite possible for an individual to win a game of Twenty20 or even 50-overs cricket with a brilliant performance, but Tests are different.
As for Jonathan Trott, I’ve no problem with his selection as England clearly believe he is good enough. Those people who say that it is unfair to bring in Trott for a Test debut in a match like this are adopting the typical English attitude. If he is good enough, he is good enough.
Do you always give a player a debut against someone like Bangladesh, to try to ease him in? No, the fact that it is an Ashes decider is irrelevant to me; it is a Test match and if Trott is up to it then there is no problems.
Ravi Bopara, to me, was always going in too high at number three. He should have been played at five or six, with his bowling used a bit too.
But he has underperformed, and England have made their decision as Australia’s selectors did earlier in the series with Phillip Hughes, bringing in Shane Watson. As I said in my previous TME column, I would have picked Joe Denly of Kent to bat at three.
As for England’s selection of eight bowlers in their Oval squad, that is quite understandable because they want to keep all their options open. I certainly don’t see it as not knowing what their best attack is. Australia, in effect, are picking from a squad of 16 for this match, so why shouldn’t England have 14 players at the Oval?
But, even with those eight bowlers, I think England have missed a trick by not including Adil Rashid in this series. Rashid is something different, and exciting, and is a major young talent.
Why is it that in England young players always seem to have to do their time before they ‘qualify’ to step up to the top level?