Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney January 2, 2011

Ashes in the bag, but series still at stake


Match Facts

January 3-7, Sydney
Start time 10:30 (23:30 GMT)

The Big Picture

The Ashes have been retained, but there's still so much at stake as the series moves on to the New Year Test in Sydney. Another performance as crushing as either Adelaide or Melbourne proved to be, and England will have triumphed 3-1 - a margin of victory befitting a campaign that has been as meticulously crafted as any in the long history of Anglo-Australian rivalry. Another slip-up of the sort that threatened to derail them in Perth, however, and the series will be squared at 2-2, the first such scoreline since 1972, but one that would leave the Aussies feeling decidedly chipper after one of their most exacting home summers since the mid-1980s.

All the signs point to England. They are settled, confident and - despite a few justified hangovers on the morning after the Ashes were retained - supremely focused on a speck in the middle distance which reads "World No. 1". They've got a long way to go yet, but seeing as they have not lost a series of any description since September 2009, they are well on their way to that aim. Australia, by contrast, have just succumbed to their fifth Test defeat in seven matches, and are reeling not only from the sheer destructiveness of England's performance at the MCG, but the implications of the collateral damage as well, with Ricky Ponting sidelined for the first time in six years.

Nevertheless, we've been here before in Ashes cricket. Twenty-four years ago at this very ground, the seeds of Australia's renaissance were sown at the precise moment that England believed they had laid them out for the rest of the decade. When the unheralded offspinner Peter Taylor claimed eight wickets on debut to secure a consolation 55-run victory in the fifth Test of the 1986-87 series, it was assumed it was a case of dead cat bounce for an out-muscled outfit. On the contrary, that victory would be the first of 12 Aussie wins without reply in Ashes cricket, with their run finally ending at The Oval in 1993.

The lesson is simple. When Australia are down, they need to be kept there at all costs, because no side is more adept at improbable regeneration. The odds may be stacked against them, but if England dare to turn up without their fullest focus, the scope for an upset still exists.

Form guide

(most recent first)

Australia LWLDL
England WLWDW

Watch out for...

Michael Beer and Usman Khawaja will be making their Test debuts, but they will have surpassed themselves if they attract even a fraction of the attention that will be reserved for third first-timer in the Aussie ranks. On Monday, Michael Clarke will become Australia's 43rd Test captain, and so step into a role that is second only in the nation's prestige to the office of Prime Minister. Whether he is worthy of such a position is a question that he needs to answer PDQ. Some 85% of respondents to a national newspaper poll do not believe he is up to it, and while his team-mates have rallied round obediently this week, it is no secret that he is not universally adored within the dressing room. With 148 runs at 21.14 in the series to date, he'll secure himself a quick hit of respect if he can rediscover his once-silky batting form.

Graeme Swann has been a ubiquitous presence in England's Ashes campaign, from his series-long tussle with Australia's main man, Michael Hussey, to his lead role in the sprinkler dance with which the squad celebrated the moment of victory at Melbourne. Through his acclaimed tour video, the insight track on a happy and harmonious squad has been plain to see. But his actual on-field contributions have been rather more subdued than he would have planned. Five matchwinning wickets at Adelaide and a vital holding role at the MCG have been offset by two anonymous outings at Brisbane and Perth. But Sydney is traditionally a spinner's sanctuary. He will expect to make feathers fly.

Team news

A new year, a new team for Australia. Ponting's broken finger means he will be absent from their ranks for the first time since the tour of India in 2004-05, some 73 Tests ago, while Ryan Harris's stress fractured ankle deprives them of arguably their most tireless fast-bowling option, and a man who claimed a career-best 6 for 47 at Perth a fortnight ago. Khawaja, Australia's first Muslim Test cricketer, will step into Ponting's immense shoes at No. 3, while Beer will finally get an outing after carrying the stubbies at the WACA and the MCG. Doug Bollinger is 12th man.

Australia 1 Shane Watson, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Steven Smith, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Michael Beer, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.

Paul Collingwood's form remains a concern for England, but he will surely play, albeit at No. 6, for what could yet be his final appearance in Test cricket. After his heroics in the fourth Test, Tim Bresnan has earned the right to keep his place in England's pace attack, despite the claims of the rested Steven Finn and the ever-eager but as-yet-unused Ajmal Shahzad.

England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 James Anderson

Pitch and conditions

Sydney's traditional characteristics will please Swann after a series in which only one surface, Adelaide, has truly played into his hands. But, according to David Saker, England's revered bowling coach and the architect of their strategies for all five Tests, it will also swing at the SCG. James Anderson will be licking his lips, but so too Mitchell Johnson. The curator Tom Parker says win the toss and bat, and to expect spin from day three, but heavy overnight rain may tempt the captains to bowl.

Stats and trivia

  • Australia's record at the SCG is formidable, with 14 wins in 16 Tests dating back to 1996.

  • However, England are the only side to have beaten them at the venue in that time. Their 225-run win in 2002-03 was their last win on Australian soil until last month's Adelaide Test .

  • Alastair Cook needs 23 more runs to reach 600 for the series, a landmark achieved by just six England batsmen in Australia, most recently Michael Vaughan (633) in 2002-03.

  • Ricky Ponting 's absence leaves him stranded on 99 Test wins, which is still the most individual victories by any player in Test history.


"He'll be an aggressive captain, always looking to take wickets out there, make changes to the field and with the bowlers. That's the way Australians have played our cricket as long as I can remember. I think he'll be a very positive captain."
Michael Hussey gives a vote of confidence to his new leader, Michael Clarke

"We had one night out after the game, you should celebrate a Test victory and an Ashes-retaining victory heavily. I tried to a lead a merry dance, but that was one night and we've moved on."
Graeme Swann says that England's focus is back on the job after some heady times following the Melbourne win

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Donal on January 3, 2011, 0:18 GMT

    Interesting that this has developed into a rankings debate. For my money England need to beat India (in India) and South Africa (in South Africa) before people can begin to tout them as #1!

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 21:45 GMT

    @sumeet kumar and Pranav : I think every objective cricket fan will agree that eng and sa are both better than India now and England shd soon overtake india. So what, can't any team even aspire to be number 1 now? At least I hope England beats India to shift the powers(political and financial) a bit. I am quite frankly tired of reading how India is number 1 in almost every commentable article. I wonder what people like you will say when England beats India 1) doctored pitches 2) cloud cover / swingig conditions 3) Kevin pietersen and trott aren't as good as sehwag and dravid respectively 4) sachin is god btw, the only team inthe top 5 who cringe about losing the toss and subsequently the game is India , they do it with amazing consistency too

  • Rajagopalan on January 2, 2011, 21:42 GMT

    Sheikh Washimul, England had beaten Aussies when "both" McGrath and Warne?!! Isn't that other way around? 5-0??? Also, England can decimate India?! When was the last time England had won a series against India either home or other?? May be you have to check facts before typing rubbish.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 21:30 GMT

    who cares about india? This article is about the Ashes: England & Australia. If you want to chat about India i believe theres another series going on elsewhere...

  • Brij on January 2, 2011, 21:08 GMT

    The reason for leaving Hauritz out to include Beer is to have a spinner who spins away from the right handed ridiculous! Imagine leaving Swann out to include Panesar!

  • Shaheer on January 2, 2011, 20:38 GMT

    go on usman i hope you hit a century anyways austrailais no 6 problemn has been solved pointing could play in no 6 position for australia ohhh that wud be great

  • Marc on January 2, 2011, 20:09 GMT

    @ Sumeet Kumar and Pranav25-What this article has anything to do with India being the best team in the world I don't know. The current England set up has only ever said that being no 1 is what they are striving for. Isn't any team? Why play if that isn't your goal? India are no 1 in the rankings at the moment. Can't you just be happy about that? Anyway, underestimate any Australian team at your peril. England will have to be right on our game if we are going to win. Conditions should suit us, but if Johnson has a good game it could go either way.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 20:05 GMT

    As far as test rankings are concerned, its funny that everyone wants to be number 1 but they actually do not respect the rankings. Its great that Eng and SA are playing fantastic cricket and they are fab teams. they should absolutely aim for being #1 but then they should respect the current number1 too. India is part of the same system guys. I agree India do not hv a team like Aus of 2000s or WI of 70s, but then i dont think there is any such team at the moment. Eng has just started winning and their team is untested in subcontinent n SA. SA is gr8 team, skill wise almost perfect but time n again they fall short on the mental ability. Ind do not have the bowlin attack, they bank too heavily on zaheer, but I think mentally they r very strong @ the moment ( I know sm will laugh but you just need to see number of 4th inning chases India has completed in last few years, it points towards mental toughness)

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 19:47 GMT

    For people who say India create turning pitches, please be informed that if Aus can prepare bouncy WACA pitch, SA can create a green and bouncy Durban pitch, so can India. For those who do not know its called 'home advantage'. India should not expect easy pitches abroad and neither should others in India. I think thats the fun of the game. I think it just rubs people wrong way when they realise its only subcontinent that very different from rest of the world and they cant play there natural game like they can in most other places, thats why rest of the world do not have great records in subcontinent, but guys same way India do not have a great record outside subcontinent. Its strange that I am writing this on the preview of Eng- aus match..

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 19:22 GMT

    Anyway getting back to England vs. Aus Test match. I guess Australia would play for their pride in this test. If England can dent their confidence again through some quick wickets or scoring at a rapid face without losing wicket then I think hope of Aus to make a draw the series would suffer a big jolt. I think initial performance of both teams is quite important. Best of luck to both teams, but I would love English guys to win, although they pose a challenge to my home team - India, England have certainly played brilliant cricket and deserve to go 3-1 up. I am astounded by perfomance of England Top Order. Good Going.

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