Clarke motivated by 2005 defeat
For the past couple of nights Michael Clarke has tried to remember what it was like going into the final Test at The Oval four years ago. He can't recall any of the details. Instead of wiping out what happened during the game that sealed Australia's first Ashes defeat in 16 years, he has blocked out the lead-up.
"I've tried to relive it, tried to think about how I felt, and I can't remember too much of it," he said. "It's probably a good thing." That match was a drawn-out stalemate and as it wore on there was nothing the Australians could do to claw back from the 2-1 deficit.
This team is no match for the Australian outfit of four years ago, which was full of greats, but all it needs is a draw to retain the urn and help erase the pain of a ground full of Englishman cheering in the explosions of confetti. "It's motivated me to date," Clarke said of the previous tour. "Once I arrived in England, in the back of my mind there were memories from 05 that I wish I could forget.
"But that's what makes you a better player, you learn from your mistakes as an individual and a team. The guys that played in 05 will be really keen to make sure the results are a lot different come Monday."
Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Simon Katich are the only certainties for the decider starting on Thursday, while Brett Lee must hope for an injury or the pitch to deteriorate enough for reverse-swing to be a significant factor. Unless that happens Australia's only decision will be whether to stick with Stuart Clark and a four-man pace attack or bring in the offspin of Nathan Hauritz.
The pitch at The Oval is already relatively bare - and more grass is expected to come off on Wednesday - and the batsmen are the ones who have the most to be excited about. Clarke leads the run-list with 445 at 89.00 and on this tour the vice-captain has grown into Australia's most consistent performer.
"Personally it's been good to score some runs, but it's irrelevant now," Clarke said. "Unless I make runs out here and contribute to the team's success, being the leading run-scorer but not winning the series is worthless."
The tourists have peaked as the series has continued while England have dropped off since the final day of the third Test. Jonathan Trott will come into the line-up and Ian Bell has been elevated a spot to No. 3, giving the side an even more fragile look than when the hosts were dismissed for 102 on the first day at Headingley.
"[Bell's] record at three isn't as good as at four or five," Clarke said. "But for us it's important we look at their whole batting line-up. Trott is going to feel the nerves and be under pressure and the sooner we can get him in the better."
Andrew Flintoff remains the main threat, wonky knee and all, but Australia enter the match as the favourites to take the match and the Ashes. "That doesn't guarantee you are going to win," Clarke said. "What's important is the four Tests that are gone are exactly that - gone. It's 1-1, this is the important Test and this is the one we're focussed on."
And they are not thinking about grinding out the game. "I don't think we should start that way, no," he said. "In the 50-odd Tests I've played we've never played for a draw, I'm pretty confident we won't be out there trying for draw."
Some rain is expected during the game, making England's task harder, and is the only reason Australia will be happy to settle for 1-1. "If we have no choice then we have no choice," Clarke said. "I'd rather 1-1 than a 2-1 loss, but our attitude won't be that when we walk out to the ground on Thursday. We'll be chasing one result, and that's to win."
Australia's personnel has changed considerably since 2005, but Clarke has faith in this team to do better than its predecessor and take home the urn. "There's a lot less experience in our team to 05, but the one thing this side has shown over the last 12 months that we do have the class, the enthusiasm, the desire to be as successful as any team that I've played in," he said.
"Yes, we probably don't have the greats, at this stage of the guys' careers like we did in 05, but we've got everything else that comes from inside you that these players have. Over a period of time you'll see a lot of the guys in this side become very good cricketers, if not great cricketers."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo