Fifth Test preview: Australia v England

Australia

Fast forward into 2014, and England are down, bloody and the count has reached eight. They are considering handing debuts to three players, a thing so rare that the last time it happened was in 2006, in an effort to avoid five-zip.

After more than six months of on-and-off Ashes action, scandals, DRS drama and shock squad developments, the Australia versus England contest is finally drawing to a close, with the fifth (actually tenth) match taking place at the SCG.

Australia have lost in Sydney once in the past 10 Tests, thoroughly justifying <a href='http://www.paddypower.com/bet/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting odds</b></a> that fall right into the hands of home ground advantage, winning the other nine, and given they're four-nil up now, they'll be confident of pulling off a whitewash not one single person predicted before the series began.

The start of the first Test at the Gabba feels light years away, when English journalists (basically everyone other than Shane Warne, really) predicted yet another drubbing for Michael Clarke's side, despite being on home soil.

Fast forward into 2014, and England are down, bloody and the count has reached eight. They are considering handing debuts to three players, a thing so rare that the last time it happened was in 2006, in an effort to avoid five-zip.

In that game seven years ago, Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar got their first caps, and now the latter is in doubt with a calf injury. This leaves Durham leg-spinner Scott Borthwick in line for his debut, and he will be hoping to avoid a Simon Kerrigan-like introduction.

Added to Borthwick, Boyd Rankin and Gary Ballance are tipped to replace Tim Bresnan and Michael Carberry respectively. Any why the heck not? England have nothing but pride to play for, and Ballance in particular has been impressive in warm-up games.

The upheaval continues in the wicketkeeping department, with England confirming that Jonny Bairstow will continue in place of Matt Prior, whose form with the bat required his ejection from the side ahead of Melbourne.

As for the Aussies, they will want to name an unchanged side for the fifth game in a row to keep their impressive run going. There were doubts over Shane Watson and Ryan Harris' fitness, but they trained at full tilt on Thursday.

Nathan Lyon is also likely to keep his place, despite the extra grass on the pitch indicating a pace paradise, with Clarke saying spin could play a part later in the game, given the hot conditions. Either that, or James Faulkner comes into the side.

Looking ahead, Australia will want to use this game to firmly establish their comeback as a side to be reckoned with, and make sure they have a surplus of confidence going into the tour to South Africa, where the number one-ranked Proteas await.

<b>Key Men</b><br>For the hosts, opening batsman <b>David Warner</b> has been in superb form, and will aim to keep the new year rolling in the same we he ended the last – and justify <a href='http://www.paddypower.com/bet/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>odds of finishing as the series' top run-scorer</b></a> on popular betting sites like Paddy Power. The series' leading run-getter, he'll want to add a third century to his tour stats.

England really, really need one of their batsmen to come off. Only Ben Stokes has a ton in this series, but skipper <b>Alastair Cook</b> will be the key player. He has three fifties so far, but needs to lead from the front to avoid total humiliation.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013: Fourth Test: Australia won by eight wickets in Melbourne<br>2013: Third Test: Australia won by 150 runs in Perth<br>2013: Second Test: Australia won by 218 runs in Adelaide<br>2013: First Test: Australia won by 381 runs in Brisbane<br>2013: Fifth Test: Match drawn in London

<b>Squads</b><br><i>Australia:</i> Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Steven Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Alex Doolan, James Faulkner.

<i>England:</i> Alastair Cook, Michael Carberry, Joe Root, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Tim Bresnan, Boyd Rankin, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Scott Borthwick, Gary Ballance, James Tredwell, Chris Tremlett, Matt Prior.

<b>Dates:</b> 3 to 7 January<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:30-12:30 (23:30-01:30 previous day GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:10-15:10 (02:10-04:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:30-17:30 (04:30-06:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Aleem Dar and Marais Erasmus<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Tony Hill<br><b>Match referee:</b> Ranjan Madugalle

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