Pitch report – The Oval, London
We run the rule over the venue for the fifth and final Ashes Test, with England hoping to right the wrongs of 2012 and Australia keen to rectify 2009's failure.
<b>Established:</b> 1845<br><b>Capacity:</b> 23,500<br><b>Floodlights:</b> Yes<br><b>Ends:</b> Pavilion End, Vauxhall End<br><b>Home Team:</b> Surrey<br><b>Test History:</b> 95 Tests; 39 home wins; 20 away wins; 36 draws<br><b>Last 10 Tests:</b> 6 home wins; 2 away wins; 2 draws<br><b>Last 10 tosses:</b> 9 batted first (3 wins, 4 defeats, 2 draws); 1 bowled first (1 defeat)
<b>Overview</b><br>The Oval is a venue blessed with a rich sporting history, which includes playing host to the first Test match on English soil, a game in which WG Grace scored a century in England's win against Australia in 1880. Significantly it was at The Oval that the legend of the Ashes was born and the great Sir Donald Bradman played his final Test innings at the ground.
Apart from cricket the venue was also host to the first official international football match as well as the first rugby international in England in the early 1870s. Another notable fixture was the first ever FA Cup final in 1872.
The Oval now traditionally plays host to the final Test of the English summer and has therefore seen some dramatic finishes in its time. From the 1968 Ashes Test when supporters pitched in to mop a sodden ground in time for Derek Underwood to bowl the Australians out to square the series, to Kevin Pietersen's match-saving – and series-winning – 158 in 2005 against the same opposition, The Oval's history is sparkled with magical moments and memories.
It too was the scene of Inzamam-ul-Haq and company's defiant walk-off in 2006 after umpire Darrell Hair's accusations broke the proverbial camel's back. A spectacular new stand to complement the huge pavilion has made for a more pleasant viewing experience, and the famous old ground continues to be developed, with floodlights the latest new arrival in South London. The most well known feature, of course, is the gasometers to the east of the ground.
<b>Last Time Out</b><br>An opening innings and 12-run defeat which eventually led to England's loss of the number one Test ranking saw South Africa at their finest. Fast bowler complemented spinner and seamer part-time slow bowler, delivering the complete package.
Hashim Amla then delivered a record 311 not out alongside big centuries from Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis in a whoping 637 for two declaration. The hosts flanked this massive tally with 385 and 240 all out – and the rest, as the old adage goes, is history.
<b>They Said</b><br>"It was a very flat wicket. Our guys toiled very well. There was some very good batting. We couldn't get the ball to move laterally – with new ball or old ball – which is one of our big strengths." – England bowling coach <b>David Saker</b> after day three against South Africa last year.
"I still back our bowling attack's ability to take 20 wickets on most Test match surfaces. Our bowling attack has huge reserves of confidence. They have taken 20 wickets pretty much every time they have played for the last two years and this game doesn't change that for me." – Former captain <b>Andrew Strauss</b> after England managed a mere two wickets to South Africa's 20 last year.
"We saw the wicket is good to bat on and we'd rather have a lot of time to bowl and chase whatever we have to than bat on for 10 or 15 overs that we may need later on," – short and sweet from 2012's triple-centurion <b>Hashim Amla</b>.
"It has been a difficult wicket to push on and score greater than three runs an over. It is quite dusty and quite dry. There is a turn available and it will be a good opportunity for leg-spinner Imran Tahir to get in." – South African captain <b>Graeme Smith</b> 12 months ago.
<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br><b>Kevin Pietersen</b> is top of the pops for current England batsmen at this ground, with his 785 runs across 13 knocks affording the right-hander a healthy ground average of 60.38. <b>Ian Bell</b> (625 runs, 48.07 average) and <b>Alastair Cook</b> (617 runs, 47.46) are next in line.
<b>James Anderson's</b> eight Tests here have brought him 26 scalps at 37.84 apiece – considerably poorer than his career average of 30.20. <b>Graeme Swann's</b> ground record makes for impressive reading, with the spinner bagging 24 victims in just four Tests here at 26.45 each.
<b>Shane Watson</b>, <b>Michael Clarke</b>, <b>Brad Haddin</b> and <b>Peter Siddle</b> are the survivors from 2009's last visit – and will be determined to right the wrongs of that emphatic 197-run defeat.
<b>Weather Forecast</b><br>Head groundsman Lee Fortis, new to Surrey' books last year, endured plenty of inclement weather in the build-up to his maiden Test. This time, however, clear skies will allow for adequate preparation. Rain is likely to steer clear throughout the five days, too, affording a sunny end to a series that has otherwise endured bad light controversy. Temperatures, though, are not going to rise above 23 degrees Celsius.
<b>Conclusion</b><br>The pitch is one which provides interest for all. Runs are not hard to come by, while seamers have the encouragement of pace and bounce on a dry surface – this year isn't likely to buck the trend.
That will also keep the spinners interested and, as at all English venues, the ball should swing. History says that batting first is the obvious choice, even for an Australian batting line-up desperate for form.
2013 County Championship Division One has seen three draws in four attempts at the venue, with all four decisions to bat first ultimately unrequited. England, thrown off only by 2010's loss to Pakistan and last year to the Proteas, have made The Oval into something of a stronghold since the turn of the century.
Fortis, meanwhile, will be eager to rectify a questionable debut – and hopefully allow for a less batsmen-friendly track this time. Chris Tremlett, indeed, will benefit from the bounce – but the conditions can't justify England's possible inclusion of two spinners.
Australia, though, despite the ongoing calls to rest Ryan Harris – could push their finest exponent of reverse swing for a fourth consecutive Test. Conditions – and cloud cover – will fall straight into the prolific seamer's right hand again.
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