Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney January 1, 2007

Changing of the guard

Last wave: Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne bow out at Sydney © Getty Images

Two eras will end at the SCG this week and the speed that Australia and England deal with the new beginnings will determine how they recover from the losses. In the green and gold corner Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne walk away with more than 1250 wickets that have won Australia every trophy on offer to them. And now Justin Langer is also stepping aside. For England this is the week when they officially hand back the Ashes.

Warne's goodbye began in Melbourne and now it is McGrath's turn to wave to his home crowd and end a career that began in Perth 13 years ago. Together they have pushed Australia to No. 1 - and kept them there - but they have never been part of a 5-0 Ashes whitewash. Only one team, Warwick Armstrong's 1920-21 outfit, has been responsible for such a demolition and the doubts of a repeat are created by rain, an unexpected England fightback or Australia re-discovering their dead-rubber syndrome.

Showers are predicted for the first two days and are the most likely method of slowing Australia's charge. England have talked of improving throughout the series without results - the fourth Test in Melbourne was given up in three days - and there is only a tiny chance the home team will relax for such a huge occasion.

Australia got their hands on replicas of the Ashes after the third Test in Perth but at the end of the fifth game they will celebrate with the true prize, which is much larger and made of crystal, and will hope to do it with another win. Two of Australia's greatest bowlers will be desperate to exit on a record-breaking high and it will help to dilute further the memories of 2005.

"We don't want to leave this country having been turned over 5-0" - Andrew Flintoff

England's rise was as sudden as their fall and Andrew Flintoff is in danger of joining JWHT Douglas, who suffered his fifth loss of the series in four days at the SCG. "We don't want to leave this country having been turned over 5-0," Flintoff said after the Melbourne loss. He also replied it was "a stinking question" when asked about avoiding the same result of 86 years ago.

Despite the heavy list of defeats, England have few options for change apart from adding the offspinner Jamie Dalrymple to join Monty Panesar in a twin-spin attack. Australia did not bring Stuart MacGill, an SCG specialist, into their squad to avoid disrupting the fast-bowling balance and Andrew Symonds' slow offerings will become useful if the pitch shows signs of turn.

England enter the final Test of the tour in the same predicament as 2002-03, when Andy Caddick found some energy with ten wickets and they won despite Steve Waugh's century to save his career. Andy Bichel, who was batting at No. 3, top scored for Australia in their second innings as they slipped for 226 and lost by 225 runs.

England cannot rely on the trend continuing. With Ricky Ponting in charge, Australia have lost only one dead game and that was on an awful pitch in Mumbai. If Australia do find some trouble expect the team to rally around McGrath, Warne and Langer to send them off in fitting style.

Australia (probable) Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath.

England (probable) Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff (capt), Chris Read (wk), Jamie Dalrymple, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Monty Panesar.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo