The hot-headed and highly-strung will barely be able to sit still in the build-up to a contest which evokes memories of the nailbiter in south London the last time these sides met. Englishmen will claim it is a good omen, Australians bad.
It is a minor inconvenience that common sense dictates that it is the damp squib of a draw which is the most likely result. That is why it is favourite at 2.30 on the match odds market with Australia 2.60 and England, desperate depleted England, 5.40.
For all the chatter and conjecture about what will, won’t or could happen we know one thing for sure: Australia’s first task is to make sure they do not lose. So if they get the chance to bat, bat and then bat some more, they’ll take it.
It makes the toss crucial. In 24 Ashes Tests at The Oval since 1905, only four times has a team lost the toss and won (framing perfectly why Australia are 15.00 to win and field). The first-innings average score in all Tests since 2000 is 422. England’s hopes could go up in smoke before a ball has been bowled.
On a wicket which is expected to live up to its reputation as one of the most reliable for runscorers in the land it is likely that if Australia are 70-odd for one at lunch then the stalemate could be as lean as 1.70. History suggests such a price would be a fair one. Although only three of the last 12 Tests have been draws, it is telling that in the last six when a series has still been alive four have not been able to produce a result.
Of course if Andrew Strauss wins the coin flip then the 5.40 suddenly looks a good bet. The Oval is England’s second most successful home ground, the sort of statistic which some could turn up their noses at. Discount it at your peril. Headingley was England’s second worst venue and look what happened there.
No doubt England will have to be daring. The doubt is whether they have it in them. Strauss may well have to put time back into the Test at some stage with a canny declaration. Cast your mind back to his hopeless safety-first approach in the Caribbean earlier this year and there you will find the root cause of our distrust.
The selection of Warwickshire batsman Jonathan Trott at the expense of Ravi Bopara could be a courageous gamble or a pick of childish desperation depending on your view. Either Trott has been one of the top batsmen in county cricket for two years or he is South-Africa born, lived there all his life and is a cocky-so-an-so. Remind you of anyone?
KP Mark II is unlikely to repeat what KP Mark I managed in the corresponding fixture four years ago, however. The man most likely to produce a blockbuster performance is Andrew Flintoff, fit and firing in his last hurrah.
If that is the best piece of news England could have hoped for then they will also be buoyed by the fact that rarely do they produce bad back-to-back performances. The innings defeat at Leeds was entirely predictable for the fifth-ranked side in the world against the number 1 over such a lengthy battle. As usual with England, they are never as good, or bad, as they are portrayed to be. The truth is somewhere between the two. Indeed, only twice since 2000 have England lost two Tests in a row in the same series at home.
With a draw likely, other markets could provide more fun. Strauss looks solid to be top England runscorer at 4.80 given that an essay could be written on the weaknesses of his teammates. Strauss hit 129 in the 2005 . Flintoff scored a half-century in the same innings and his average 53 is the highest of any of the top six.
Shane Watson is not one to discount for Australia purely because of ground form. He blitzed 132 at The Oval for Hampshire against Surrey in a Friends Provident Trophy match in 2005.
Australia look certain to recall Brett Lee for Stuart Clark because of his ability to reverse swing the old ball. Nathan Hauritz, the off spinner, could again miss out. If that suggests Australia are going all-out attack, don’t be fooled. They will not risk the urn. England, on the other hand, having nothing to lose.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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