Having retained the urn for the first time in 18 years, Australia will head into The Oval knowing that they’ve already conquered enemy territory. However, with World Test Championship points and a potential series win at stake, Tim Paine & co would know that they can ill-afford to be complacent.
Marcus Harris: Australia have been playing musical chair with their openers in this Ashes so far and while many expected Harris to lose his place to Khawaja at Old Trafford, he was preferred to, by the selectors. Ironically, his partner David Warner’s bad run of form might just have saved Harris’ place, as both openers are expected to be given one final gig to redeem themselves and leave the series with their heads held high.
David Warner: When Warner struck a gritty fifty in the first innings at Headingley, it looked like the southpaw had finally turned his fortunes around, but unfortunately it turned out to be a false alarm. He has since scored three consecutive ducks and as of this moment, it looks like the sheer sight of Stuart Broad is enough for Warner to lose his wicket. Fair to say it’ll either be another embarrassing outing or perhaps a late late shot at redemption for the New South Welshman.
Marnus Labuschagne: After four consecutive fifty-plus scores, Marnus Labuschagne finally succumbed in the second innings at Old Trafford, but yet, he managed to turn the game around with the ball by breaking the resilience of Jack Leach. Just eight Tests into his career, Labuschagne already looks like the kind of guy who loves to make a difference - with bat, ball or on the field - and he would be looking to cap off his English summer with yet another big score.
Steve Smith: A century after a one-year hiatus and a double-century coming back from a concussion. What’s next for Steve Smith in this series? Well, he’s 304 runs shy of Don Bradman for the most runs scored in a single series. It’s crazy that we’re even discussing this, but with the way Smith has been batting this series, you sure wouldn’t wanna bet against him breaking it. He has already - almost single-handedly - helped his team retain the urn, now it’s up to him to help them win the series.
Matthew Wade: Like Head, Matthew Wade has also encountered a steady dip in form as the series has progressed, but in the second innings at Headingley, he arrested the slide to play an extremely important knock for both himself and his team. More often than not, the primary role of Wade whenever he’s come out to bat has been to provide support to Smith and one would assume that the Aussies would be more than happy with the Victorian should he do the same in the fifth Test.
Tim Paine: Having gone 11 Tests without a fifty, skipper Tim Paine chose the perfect stage to break the duck as he excelled with both his batting and captaincy to become the first captain since Steve Waugh in 2001 to retain the Ashes. It’s indeed an understatement to say that Paine has been overshadowed by Smith, but delivering clutch performances in back-to-back matches should certainly increase his credibility as both captain and a wicket-keeper batsman.
Mitchell Marsh: The all-rounder has finally gotten his crack at The Ashes thanks to his handy bowling skills and the technical frailties of Travis Head. Having impressed in every opportunity he’s got so far, the Western Australian would be keen to make his mark in this Ashes. Interestingly, Marsh scored a century the last time he batted against England and boy wouldn’t he love to repeat it once again at The Oval.
Josh Hazlewood: Perhaps, in the years to come, his delivery to dismiss Craig Overton will be remembered as one of the most iconic moments in Australian cricket history. Alongside Pat Cummins, Hazlewood has been the pick of the bowlers for Australia, and arguably, their third best player of the series. But Oval might just post the toughest challenge for him yet, with the surface set to offer very little swing and lateral movement.
Mitchell Starc: There were concerns at Old Trafford over which Mitchell Starc would turn up and for the first half of England’s first innings, it felt like Australia regretted selecting the left-armer. However, in no time, he proved why he’s such a valuable asset to the team; firstly by knocking over Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow in the first innings and then by complimenting his compatriots. It certainly feels like the left-armer has got control over the Dukes ball and hence might just turn out to be the telling difference on a flattish Oval deck.
Peter Siddle: Mr.Consistent Peter Siddle has been integral in training his fellow Aussie mates to perfect the “wobble seam” delivery and would one presume that he’s done a pretty good job, especially with the way Cummins and Hazlewood have bowled so far. Now, come Thursday, it will be time for the master to step on the field once again and make a difference; this time with not mentoring, but leading the pack from the front. With Cummins all set to be rested, Siddle might need to play the holding role - which is usually pretty good at - and give leverage to his other strike bowlers to go for the kill.
Nathan Lyon: Nathan Lyon struggled - with both his line and lengths and finger injury - at Old Trafford and in all fairness, should be grateful to the pacers for hiding his shortcomings with the ball. The off-spinner has certainly been below-par post the Edgbaston Test, having picked up just seven wickets in the last six innings. With the wicket bound to be flat, Lyon has to ensure that he brings out his A game not only for his own good, but also to reduce the workload on the pacers.
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