This year’s Ashes has seen many ups and downs to make any sarcastic remarks on either side. Australia has not defeated the host England since the 2006 series and it looks like they will have to wait till 2017. So far the series has shocked cricket fans all over the world, especially the fourth test at Trent Bridge in which Stuart Broad completely destroyed the Australian batting line-up with 8/15, thereby making the guests manage a paltry first innings total of 60. As we wait to see how Australia tries to gift their captain, Michael Clarke, a retirement gift in the form of a face-saving victory and put up a good competition in the already lost series, here is what both the sides will be pondering over.
Curious case of captains
While Alastair Cook would be very happy with the way his squad has retained the title with an unassailable lead, he has not been in the best of form. Even though he scored an impressive 96 in the first innings of the third test, he could not save England from the only defeat of the series by a massive margin of 405 runs. Fortunately, other top order batsmen have made up for his low scores. His counterpart, Michael Clarke has only managed a highest score of 32 runs and his failure as a batsman has largely been attributed to the team’s back to back losses. The other top order batsmen like Steven Smith and Chris Rogers have been saving the squad from disintegrating, but after the debacle of the fourth test, fans would be anxious to see Clarke pass on the torch to Smith.
Steven Smith’s form
As numerous Aussie fans will bid farewell to skipper Clarke on 24th August (or before), Smith will join the league of big names like Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting. With this, he would certainly like to forget this Ashes and become the unifier of a struggling squad. Ian Chappell recently remarked, “It should be Smith’s team, not Clarke’s leftovers,” and the new skipper would definitely like to start afresh on a positive note. In his country’s only victory, Smith contributed with scores of 215 and 58, and was declared the Man of the Match. Despite this being an impressive feat, he has been unable to manage consistency. His scores in the last four innings at Birmingham and Trent Bridge read 7, 8, 6 and 5 respectively. Smith is a batsman who has proved his mettle in all the formats of the game and he would definitely look forward to becoming more reliable as the future test captain.
Australia’s possible strategies
Barring the second test match, England has been fairly consistent as a team in this Ashes series, and that has added to Australia’s woes. Even if Cook’s XI begin giving away wickets at regular intervals, one or the other becomes the savior. Joe Root has been in splendid form and Ian Bell has complemented him every now and then. Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn and Ben Stokes have all achieved five-wicket hauls and ensured that the guests are unable to recuperate. Facing such a strongly lined up team, Australia would look at exploring the destructive capacities of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson better, and making Nathan Lyon the add-on. Smith, Rogers and Warner have delivered in fragments, and Clarke would surely look to mend his team’s batting performance as a whole.
While England will definitely have the upper hand at the Oval come 20th August, the Australian team will try to muster up all their abilities as a union and give their skipper a farewell present. The batsmen will have to complement one another and keep up the momentum on both ends. The hosts would, however, also look forward to end the series 3-1, if not 4-1 to celebrate the regained Ashes.