Fifth Test preview: England v Australia

Three consummate victories separate England from Australia ahead of the fifth and final Test at The Oval, but a deadrubber this certainly is not, with plenty of intriguing variables – and goals – to thicken the plot.

Three consummate victories separate England from Australia ahead of the fifth and final Test at The Oval, but a deadrubber this certainly is not, with plenty of intriguing variables – and goals – to thicken the plot.

While the hosts have the chance to land an unprecedented four-nil triumph and leapfrog India to second spot in the ICC rankings, the Aussies will know full well a win in London will set a befitting benchmark for what must follow at home later this year – and ultimately upend <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>odds of 5/2 among popular betting sites</b></a>.

Players, pundits and fans alike have, for the most part, have acknowledged 2013's two-part Ashes trial – one in the United Kingdom, one Down Under. This week, however, it is time for all and sundry to mesh the two as a 10-match marathon.

Indeed, the English have conquered their home leg – but are equally aware of the perils that await in Brisbane and surrounds in November and beyond. Hence, the selection of Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan.

Neither are likely to feature in Wednesday's XI, but have all but sealed a place in touring party for the return visit. England's growing ruthless streak, personified by Stuart Broad's 'I think we're quite an unpleasant team to play against at the moment and teams won't play against us and enjoy the experience' rhetoric' is evident – and there is no room for token debuts.

Chris Tremlett, however, is surely a near certainty. The lanky fast bowler has been dragged through the series as a veritable passenger, missing key county cricket for his international ambition, and is due reward. Injury to Tim Bresnan will facilitate Tremlett's return – and there, too, is room for Steven Finn if one of Broad or James Anderson are rested.

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The makeup of the Australian XI, as has been the case throughout the series, is considerably less settled. Batsman left, right and centre are under fire for a slew of inadequate performances. Only Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke are safe, according to Darren Lehmanm, while criticism of Shane Watson has never been more prevalent.

Phil Hughes, Ed Cowan and perhaps even Matthew Wade, who some – including himself – tipped as a specialist batsman waited in the wings. Instead, all-rounder James Faulkner will debut.

The top six succession has been anything but consistent lately and, with a view to the future despite current shortfalls, there remained merit in sticking with the men that did the job – albeit it unsuccessfully – in Durham. Alas, Usman Khawaja has been dropped and Watson will arrive at the crease at three.

The bowling ranks, meanwhile, demanded a fourth consecutive match squeezed out of Ryan Harris regardless of fitness concerns. Somewhat of a must-win situation requires his fine extraction of reverse swing in conditions likely to oblige. Mitchell Starc, as per rotation policy, is back too.

The Australians orchestrated sweeping change prior to the start of this series, namely Lehmann's replacement of Mickey Arthur, and won't be averse to comparable choices come November's build-up. A complete performance to cap August – and the promise of more later this year – should stave off kneejerk reaction, though.

<b>Key Men</b><br>Nick Compton copped an unfair dismissal, as <b>Joe Root</b> rose to the top of the order. The talented right-hander has, since, flattered to deceive – bar a big century at Lord's against an uninspired opposition attack. This is by no means last-chance saloon, but more failure from Root will force a reserve opener come the next Ashes series.

The failings of Australia's recent number three batsmen are well documented and, for this series at least, epitomised by <b>Usman Khawaja</b>. The fragile left-hander must defy <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>odds of 13/2 to be the leading run-scorer</b></a> – and win long-term favour with the selectors.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013: Fourth Test: England won by 74 runs at Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street<br>2013: Third Test: Match drawn at Old Trafford, Manchester<br>2013: Second Test: England won by 347 runs at Lord's, London<br>2013: First Test: England won by 14 runs at Trent Bridge, Nottingham<br>2011: Fifth Test: England won by an innings and 83 runs at SCG, Sydney

<b>Prediction</b><br>England are on a roll as a unit, one that an Australian team dotted with a few indifferent individuals isn't likely to stop. The underdogs will challenge in isolated periods, but not for long enough to truly test for five days. The English will take this, and with it, rewrite history.

<b>Teams</b><br><i>England (probable):</i> Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett.

<i>Australia (confirmed):</i> Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.

<b>Dates:</b> 21 to 25 August<br><b>Morning session:</b> 11:00-13:00 (10:00-12:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:40-15:40 (12:40-14:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 16:00-18:00 (15:00-17:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Tony Hill<br><b>Match referee:</b> Roshan Mahanama