Australia vs England, 5th Test
Starts at 09:30 IST, Jan 14 (04:00 GMT)
Preview by Rob Johnston
Mercifully, the fourth Test at the SCG was a tight, tense affair. The three games in this series in the lead-up had been so one-sided that it was suggested in some quarters that the Ashes should be reduced to a three-match rubber. It was a relief then that the Sydney Test was competitive. Relief for England, of course, that they escaped with a draw and avoided the whitewash. But relief, too, for the Australian public who, despite their love of winning, actually want to see good, hard, competitive cricket first and foremost. At least the fourth Test offered some of that. It would be nice if the fifth and final Test in Hobart, beginning on Friday (January 14), was a similarly stirring contest.
That will depend on the tourists who dragged themselves through the final day at the SCG, battered, bruised but unbeaten, to secure the draw. Their performance showed plenty of character and determination - qualities that, it must be said, were missing from the first three matches - but it came at a cost. Jos Buttler has flown home with a broken finger. Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, key performers, are walking wounded. The energy expended by England simply to hold out was immense and would have taken a huge amount out of them. Rousing themselves for one final match will be no small feat.
There is, however, plenty for England to play for. A 3-1 or 3-0 defeat would not erase the disastrousness of the opening three matches but it would at least lend a gloss of respectability to the series score. Careers are on the line too, for players and coaches alike. Rory Burns, for example, is set to replace Haseeb Hameed but knows that his long-term future in this team is particularly uncertain. Jack Leach could do with a good game after a quiet series. For Sam Billings, set to become England's 700th Test player, the opportunities are all in front of him. Score a hundred here and suddenly he becomes England's Test match wicket-keeper for the foreseeable future.
Australia are less troubled. They have a settled side and, providing Scott Boland pulls up well on the morning of the game, have no injury concerns in the current squad. The hosts' inability to dismiss England on the final day in Sydney was frustrating no doubt but the hosts dominated the game for large parts and, had they not lost time to rain throughout the game, probably would have won comfortably. They also showed in the second Test in Adelaide how proficient they are as a pink-ball team, something that gives them a clear advantage over England for this day-night Test.
There have been many standout performances from Australian players during the course of this series but this is an important Test for Alex Carey who has struggled with the bat - although his opportunities have been somewhat limited - and increasingly looked accident prone behind the stumps. He has proven in the limited-overs formats that he has the ability to perform at international level and five Tests is far too soon to judge him. Even so, he will know that he needs a good performance soon enough to really bed himself into this team. It doesn't take long for the pressure to mount.
This game is an important occasion for Tasmanian cricket. The match was moved from its original location of Perth to Hobart because of Western Australia's draconian border restrictions and this will be Bellerive Oval's first Ashes Test match. Indeed, it will be the first Test of any kind played here since 2016. Ticket sales have been strong and the locals will be hoping the weather plays ball and the on-field action is as dramatic as it was in Sydney on that excellent final day. Not before time, this Ashes series finally had the competitive game it so desperately needed. Hopefully the fifth and final Test is just as hotly contested.
When: Friday January 14, 2021. 14:30am Local
Where: Bellerive Oval, Hobart
What to expect: There has typically been plenty of grass left on the Sheffield Shield pitches here in recent times and the green look of the pitch the day before the game suggests that will be the case for this match too. That means the fast-bowlers may find conditions to their liking. There could be some rain around on the first two days but the back-end of the game looks set fair.
Usman Khawaja's twin hundreds at the SCG has seen him oust Marcus Harris at the top of the order for this game with Travis Head, centurion at the Gabba, returning at number five after missing the last match with COVID. The only outstanding decision for Australia then is whether Scott Boland will be fit after injuring his rib in Sydney. Indications are that he will be fine to take his place in the XI.
Probable XI: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Nathan Lyon
England will decide their team on the morning of the game but there are likely to be a number of changes. Sam Billings will come in for Jos Buttler, who has gone home with a broken finger, while there are still fitness concerns over Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow who were both injured at the SCG. Late decisions will be made on both. James Anderson, who has played the last three Tests, could miss out with Chris Woakes an option to come in while Haseeb Hameed's poor form is likely to cost him his place at the top of the order.
Possible XI: Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, Chris Woakes/James Anderson
England Squad: Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root(c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow(w), Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, James Anderson, Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson, Daniel Lawrence, Haseeb Hameed, Dominic Bess, Ollie Pope
Australia Squad: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey(w), Pat Cummins(c), Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Swepson