Can the world’s No.1 ODI team salvage some pride when they play England in the fifth and final ODI at Manchester on Tuesday? That’s the question on a lot of lips as Alastair Cook’s resurgent team eyes a tenth successive one-day victory – increasing on the record they set at Chester-le-Street - over an utterly beleaguered Australia.
The series is already lost for Michael Clarke’s team and only the greatest optimist would give them a chance of claiming the final game. In a series that has been dubbed a dress rehearsal for next year’s Ashes - however illogical that may sound - the Aussies have been pathetic. From batting to bowling, they have been sub-standard in every department and Australia’s coach Mickey Arthur has been the first to acknowledge that.
"I'm disappointed and really shocked, we haven't played anywhere near our real potential. We had a meeting, a tough, hard meeting. We spoke some home truths. I want to see how they respond," the former South Africa coach told reporters ahead of the final match.
In their batting, there have been small contributions: inconsistency has been their undoing. On the other hand, the English batsmen have had a successful series with different players performing key roles in each game. Ian Bell (185 runs), Jonathan Trott (135), Eoin Morgan (132 without being dismissed) and Ravi Bopara (130) have each played their roles in winning matches. Morgan 89’s in the opener set the tone for the hosts; Bopara made 82 in the second ODI as England chased down 252 on a canter, and Trott has gone about his role offering solidity at No. 3 with minimal fuss.
But it has been Bell who’s been in imperious form. Considering he was recalled as Kevin Pietersen’s replacement after many thought his ODI career was over, Bell has responded to the pressure brilliantly. After a strong series against West Indies, Bell has reeled off scores of 69 not out, 75 and 41 against Australia to transform himself into England’s batting mainstay.
Even with the ball, England have found match-winners. Each of the four fast bowlers took a couple wickets at Lord’s; at The Oval the wickets were spread out between five bowlers; and at Chester-le-Street it was Steven Finn - eyeing a permanent place in the squad – who bowled superbly for 4 for 37 to restrict Australia to 200 for 9, which the England batsmen then made light work of.
The upshot of all this is that the home team goes into the final match as red-hot favourites once again. It’s high time Clarke and company pulled themselves together. How they will do so without Shane Watson and Brett Lee, who have both flown home with injuries, is anybody’s guess. Watson’s absence means a likely promotion to open for wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, opening up a slot for allrounder Steve Smith in the lower middle order. Lee will be replaced by left-arm quick Mitchell Starc.
Clearly, it’s a tall order for the Aussies to prevent Cook and Co. sealing a landmark whitewash.
England: 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Ian Bell, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Ravi Bopara, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Craig Kieswetter (wk), 7 Tim Bresnan, 8 Samit Patel/James Tredwell, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Steven Finn 11 James Anderson
Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Matthew Wade (wk), 3 David Hussey, 4 George Bailey, 5 Michael Clarke (capt), 6 Peter Forrest, 7 Steve Smith, 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Clint McKay, 10 Ben Hifenhaus, 11 James Pattinson