The destiny of the urn might be decided but The Ashes series is still on the line when the final match begins at The Oval on Thursday as England and Australia battle for the final time to conclude a brilliant few weeks of cricket.
Whatever happens in this match Australia will head off home with the urn in their possession but they have the chance to be the first Australian side to win a series in England since 2001. England will be looking to preserve that proud unbeaten run.
You sensed that England were fighting with fire from the moment they lost the first two matches of the series and as they built up a head of steam in match three and four it soon became apparent that their biggest obstacle to overall success would be the unreliable English weather and ultimate that was what beat them at Old Trafford. Had England had all five days to play with, or even just a full fourth one, they would surely be heading to The Oval all-square at 2-2.
While the urn might have gone, England have their opponents on the ropes and will be looking to capitalise on that. They are starting to really impose themselves on Australia when they have the bat in hand and on a fast scoring ground in south London that could be key. England have got better at taking key wickets at important times the longer the series has gone on, so as long as their balloon hasn’t deflated too much now they can no longer win the series, they should feel confident of success here.
In many ways Australia have done that they came here to do. That was to make sure that they took the urn back to Australia with them and while they have been successful in that and certainly won’t moan at the weather helping them to do it, they will want to show that they would have managed it regardless of the levels of precipitation in Manchester. A result here, even if it is just a draw, would achieve that and ensure that they are remembered as worthy winners of the series rather than one which the rain saved.
To be fair to Australia, there were signs on that fourth day that they had it in them to save that match but they will be keen to bat much better here and now that they can’t lose the urn it might be that they impose their star quality on this England side. They will need to shape up better with the ball because England just milked them for 500 in Manchester and if they allow the top order to find their feet this match could get away from them quickly on this ground.
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As they often do, England have already named their XI for this match and they will go into battle with the same team which were on top at Old Trafford before the rain arrived which means that Jimmy Anderson keeps his place ahead of Josh Tongue.
Australia are yet to name their team for this final game but it would appear that Todd Murphy will return to the side after they went into battle at Old Trafford without a spinner. Unless Mitch Marsh pulls up lame it is likely that Cameron Green misses out.
I’ll finish the series with three bets. The first of those comes in the form of the runs in this match where I expect the line to be battered once again. So far in this series we have had 1,334 runs, 1,347, 978 and 1,123 runs so with the exception of Headingley a 1065.5 run line has been covered throughout the series. The Oval is usually a very high scoring ground with the first innings scores generally very good on an outfield which certainly isn’t the biggest of the series. We all know that the square runs right along the outfield here so batters get full value for their shots. We only need an average of 267 runs an innings for this line to be covered which would be in keeping with the series so far. Every completed innings away from Headingley has been more than 267 runs so I expect this line to be covered.
The last two bets come in the England player markets where I probably shouldn’t take Moeen Ali at 8/1 to be the top England first innings batter for anyone who bats at three just has to be backed at that price. Moeen looked very good in his 54 at Old Trafford and on a pitch which is likely to be fairly flat to begin with I see no reason why the Warwickshire star can’t get stuck in here. Moeen does have a Test century on this ground against Pakistan which bodes well and he also has 50 against India. They both came in the first innings of the match and at this price I have to pay to see if he has another top score in him.
Mark Wood has been given the tag of changing the series with his impact and while I wouldn’t completely dispute that, I don’t think the difference Chris Woakes has made can be downplayed and the 25/1 on the Warwickshire player to be the player of the match looks a huge price to me. In the two matches Woakes has played in this series he has contributed 32* to get England over the line at Headingley and has picked up six wickets in both outings. He missed out with the bat at Old Trafford but England were in full on slog mode when he came to the crease. A more balanced effort with the bat and continued excellence with the ball could soon have this 25/1 quote looking rather daft.
Back Over 1065.5 runs for a 3/10 stake at 1.83 with Bet365
Back M.Ali Top England 1st Inns Batter for a 1/10 stake at 9.00 with Betfair
Back C.Woakes Player of the Match for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Betfair
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