Australia may have retained the Ashes but a chance to win a Test series in England will spur it on after it “got away” with a draw in Manchester.
Ashes-holder Australia has arrived in London for a series finale at The Oval starting Thursday with the urn secured at 2-1 up with one to play after England dominated the fourth Test at Old Trafford, only for rain to ensure the match ended in a draw.
Australia also led 2-1 in 2019 only for England to win at The Oval and end the series all square at 2-2.
Pat Cummins’s squad, which contains several survivors from that trip, are determined to avoid a repeat as they bid to end Australia’s 22-year wait for an Ashes series win in England.
“The feeling around it was yes, we have got away with one, but ultimately we have come here to win the Ashes, and we have gone a huge way to doing that,” Australia batsman Travis Head said at The Oval on Tuesday.
He added: “I think there are a lot of similarities with ‘19...But I also think off the back of that, it probably showed us how much it meant and how much winning the Ashes would actually really mean instead of retaining them.”
Australia will consider recalling specialist spinner Todd Murphy, omitted from an attack plundered for 592 at Old Trafford -- a total featuring Zak Crawley’s 189.
It was less than two months ago that now injured off-spinner Nathan Lyon helped bowl Australia to victory at The Oval in the World Test Championship final against India, taking 4-41 in the second innings.
All-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who returned to Test cricket after a four-year absence with a hundred in England’s win in the third Test at Headingley, is struggling with “soreness”, while fast bowler Mitchell Starc has a shoulder problem.
As a result, fellow paceman Michael Neser could make his first appearance of the series after a successful stint with Glamorgan in the English County Championship.
England must decide whether to retain James Anderson for all his 689 Test wickets putting him third on the all-time list, with only spinners Muttiah Muralitharan (800) and Shane Warne (708) ahead of the veteran seamer.
But in this series, Anderson, 41 on Sunday, has taken just four wickets in three Tests at a costly average of 76.75 apiece.
A fit-again Ollie Robinson and fast bowler Josh Tongue are both waiting to join an England attack where Stuart Broad is the leading wicket-taker in the series and express quick Mark Wood and all-rounder Chris Woakes have starred since coming into the side at Headingley.
If Anderson is left out, it could mean he has played the last Test of a remarkable 182-match career spanning 20 years.
England has sometimes inadvertently annoyed the rest of the cricket world with a self-proclaimed mission to “save” the Test format, making it sound as if its wins are to be celebrated and any defeats don’t matter provided the public is entertained.
That opinion is unlikely to be changed by England batsman Harry Brook saying Tuesday: “If we can win this week, it almost makes it a moral victory.”
England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style, however, has yielded 12 wins from 17 Tests since England captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum joined forces last year.
If anything the new approach represents a pragmatic, as much as an ideological, response to reviving the fortunes of an England team struggling under Covid restrictions that had won just one of its previous 17 Tests under Joe Root’s more orthodox leadership.
In this series, Stokes was arguably too bold when least required by declaring on the opening day of the first Test at Edgbaston before England had scored 400 in a match Australia eventually won by two wickets and insufficiently bold by not declaring at Old Trafford in a match forecast to be interrupted severely by rain.
Not that he seemed overly concerned, with the all-rounder saying after the Manchester washout: “As much as I would love to be an Ashes-winning captain, I want this to be a legacy team. Regardless of how the series ends up, people will always talk about us.”
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