Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney January 2, 2014

Australia eye unforeseen clean sweep


Match facts

January 3-7, Sydney Cricket Ground
Start time 1030 (2330 GMT)

Big Picture

Before this series began, the odds of a 5-0 win to Australia were about the same as of Bangladesh winning next year's World Cup. But Michael Clarke's men enter the Sydney Test on the verge of completing a clean sweep. England came to Australia with the Ashes in their possession and a sense of stability around their squad. Whatever happens over the next five days, they will leave these shores without the urn and without any real idea of how to fix their problems.

Graeme Swann has retired mid-tour, the vice-captain Matt Prior has been dropped, Jonathan Trott has spent most of the series at home, their only centurion has been the new boy Ben Stokes, they don't have a batsman in the top five series run scorers, they have only one bowler averaging under 30. They're a rabble, and even if they avoid a 5-0 defeat this result should hurt more than the 2006-07 clean sweep, for that was against champions like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

This Australian outfit has been cobbled together after a period of retirements, experiments and abandonments. In recent years, Australia's Test team has been changed as often as a baby's nappy and sometimes produced similar results. That was certainly the case in India in February-March, when they were humiliated 4-0 on the field and embarrassed off it. Their success in this Ashes campaign is all the sweeter for it. It remains possible that Australia may take the same XI into all five Tests in the series, which would be a first.

Not every question has been answered for the Australians, who have a three-Test tour of South Africa in a month's time. Most notably, the No.6 position occupied in this series by George Bailey could be up for grabs after this series. If Bailey plays at the SCG and fails, he can hardly be retained. Whatever happens, though, this squad has achieved everything that was asked of it. Australia have the Ashes and will get their hands on the (replica) urn after this Sydney Test. It's now just a question of 5-0, 4-0 or 4-1.

Form guide

Australia: WWWWD
England: LLLLD

Players to watch

Before the Ashes began, Michael Clarke predicted that Mitchell Johnson could be the Player of the Series, so well was he bowling. Brad Haddin has a strong claim to the award but it will take something remarkable for Johnson not to win it. Already he has been Man of the Match in three of the four Tests. Johnson has 31 wickets for the series and he needs only four more to break the Australian record for most wickets by a fast bowler in a five-Test Ashes, and seven to break Bill Whitty's record of 37 for most by an Australian fast bowler in any five-Test series, set against South Africa in 1910-11. Clarrie Grimmett's all-time Australian record of 44 wickets in a series is probably safe, but the way Johnson is going, nothing is certain.

Last week, Scott Borthwick was getting ready to head off to Sri Lanka with England Lions after his stint with the Sydney grade side Northern District. Now, he's almost certain of making his Test debut at the SCG. Swann's retirement, combined with a calf injury sustained by Monty Panesar at training, should mean Borthwick is given a chance at Test level. Borthwick has four first-class centuries to his name but unlike Australians such as Steven Smith and Cameron White, he considers himself a legspinner who can bat a bit. If he plays, Borthwick will be the fourth spinner used by England in the space of six Tests, after Swann, Panesar and Simon Kerrigan.

Team news

It is not out of the realms of possibility that Australia will play the same XI for the fifth consecutive Test and there is a strong push from the players to complete the series with the team intact. Shane Watson's groin niggle and Ryan Harris' general soreness could be the catalysts for conservatism, with a South African Test tour in a month. Nathan Coulter-Nile will be a direct replacement for Harris if he is ruled out, while Watson's ability to bowl may determine whether James Faulkner and No.3 Alex Doolan play, and thus whether Bailey can retain his spot. But there would be something very special about completing a 5-0 win with only 11 players, and it may yet happen.

Australia (possible) 1 Chris Rogers, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steven Smith, 6 George Bailey, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Nathan Lyon.

"Yes, we could do. Certainly there will be some changes," Alastair Cook said when asked if England might play three debutants at the SCG. Such a scenario might have seemed laughable before the series but it's now anyone's guess what England's best XI is. Gary Ballance is likely to be included, given England's poor batting throughout the series, and it might be that Michael Carberry makes way with Joe Root to move up to open and Ian Bell to No.3. The legspinning allrounder Borthwick would also strengthen England's batting if he replaces Panesar, while Boyd Rankin could be given a chance at the expense of Tim Bresnan. But, really, who would know?

England (possible) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Joe Root, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Gary Ballance, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Scott Borthwick, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Boyd Rankin.

Pitch and conditions

Two days out from the match, the pitch appeared to have more grass on it than a normal Sydney surface and it is expected to offer some assistance for the fast bowlers. The forecast throughout the match ranges from 22C to 27C with the possibility of occasional light showers, but rain shouldn't play too much of a part.

Stats and trivia

  • Should Australia win in Sydney it will complete their third 5-0 Ashes clean sweep, after 1920-21 and 2006-07

  • If Australia name an unchanged side it will be the first time they have ever used the same XI throughout a five-Test series

  • In the event of a draw or an Australian win, Australia will jump from fifth to third on the ICC Test rankings and England would drop from third to fourth. An England win would leave England third and Australia would move up from fifth to fourth


"Experiencing the highs and lows has made us stronger as a team and that's why you see everyone so excited when we've won, because we have been through such a long, lean patch. It is certainly a nice change."
Michael Clarke, Australia's captain

"When we left England, we had high hopes of doing something very special. I did say at the time, we'd have to play some very good cricket if we wanted to achieve that and we haven't done that."
Alastair Cook, England's captain

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nicholas on January 4, 2014, 15:38 GMT

    @landl47: I've never said Joe Root should be dropped from the team - only dropped down the order where I continue to believe he is more comfortable. I think he continues to be a breath of fresh air in this otherwise badly-out-of-form, listless England side. Just because a player is a good/great batsman, I don't believe that automatically means he/she can bat anywhere in the team. Clarke for Australia has been great in the middle order, so I've always supported him staying there; KP is KP and the thoughts of him opening or even coming in at 3 with little/naught on the scoreboard = throwing away his wicket yet again. In the absence of a reliable Hayden-style (i.e. attacking) opener, I would much rather have had Compton open with Cook than trial the likes Carberry, even though he has not disgraced. What's done is done, and we can't go back now. Thankfully young Stokes has glittered this festive period...

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 23:25 GMT

    Just saw R Harris walk out for the anthems an he is limping.Lets hope he can last out the test

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 23:13 GMT

    @ KnightRider12155 : two reasons why the Australian selectors won't pick Sayers: 1): He is not top of the wicket taking list (S. O'Keefe & J. Botha[non-Australian] are ahead of him) & 2): He plays for South Australia: for some reason the Aus selectors don't seem to like South Australian players. (Harris used to play for South Australia but wasn't picked for Aus until he moved to QLD, Lyon now plays 1st class for NSW, the last player to score 200 runs in an innings and then get dropped was a South Australian, even Lehmann when he was first selected had to score more Sheffield shield runs than ANYONE else ever before they would consider someone from South Australia, I'm a little surprised Cosgrove, who is now playing for TAS hasn't been selected).

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 23:05 GMT

    compton shud have been given a chance, no one would hve thought of a 5-0 reverse at the hands of aussies.. alastair cook shouldnt be that naive to suggest no changes necessary, england selection has been devoid of any improvisation and confidence or chances..very conservative, esp at perth where they should have played both rankin and finn....root should keep on his spot but move down, ove bell up the order, why is he made the scapegoat when jo one can play and having to play one down....bairstow is not going to do anything...spinner is a waste, panesar should have retained his spot..england can feign next summer beating india and SL that everythingis rigt and being hammered away where picthes dont suit anderson

  • Steve on January 2, 2014, 22:43 GMT

    " i would like to include Katich as he and hughes batted superbly at Johanesburg and durban few yearz back. " Katich has not had a Cricket Australia contract now for over two years, if some of the people who post on this site were Australian selectors then the team would be lucky to draw a match let alone win one.

  • David on January 2, 2014, 22:08 GMT

    Please don't drop Carbs. He is a brave batsman, and a good fielder, who deserves a chance. We cannot just stack the side with white, South African, privately educated public school boys. Carberry is a tough customer who has done nothing wrong: he has batted better than most of the England team. Root should go before carbs does! Carberry deserves to be rewarded for his toughness in a failing team. If we really need a South African public school boy, please bring back Compton, who would have provided some backbone to this limp team. Incidentally, I know that Root doesn't fall into the SA/pub school category (just the latter)... but he is neither a test opener, nor a particular success story.

  • Andrew on January 2, 2014, 21:58 GMT

    @RednWhiteArmy on (January 2, 2014, 8:37 GMT) - oh I understand, it must be very hard keeping that stiff upper lip. :)

    @landl47 on (January 2, 2014, 16:25 GMT) - pretty much agree with your assessment on Root. That said - assuming it is managed right, there should be no problems dropping Root if his form warrants being dropped. How many times have you read or heard Clarke say that it wasn't until he was dropped from the Oz team that he truely valued the honor? Root is a talent, his main weakness is that he seems to be neither forward nor back enuff to pace bowling - it shouldn't be too hard to correct as he basically has good technique otherwise & he did seem to enjoy sledging in a mike atherton type of way!

  • John on January 2, 2014, 21:51 GMT

    @64blip on (January 2, 2014, 19:55 GMT) There is no right or wrong way re Root it's just how you see it. To me they are contradicting themselves saying that they have every faith in him and then move him all about the order. IMO he should have been given the series as opener. Other players have come back stronger from being dropped - if they were to choose that option. It could actually do him more good going back to the CC esp if it's a confidence thing. Personally I'd rather see our players (who are out of form) go back to their counties to bat/bowl themselves back into form than continue to struggle for England - helping cost the team and possibly doing themselves harm by playing for Eng while so shot.

  • Jon on January 2, 2014, 21:43 GMT

    5-0 Aus. No question about this whatsoever

  • Android on January 2, 2014, 21:02 GMT

    Am I the only one who thinks Stokes is not a number 6 batsman. One century will not change anything. Do Flower believe he can win the test series with bits and pieces players. Now Borthwick. He can bat but can he take a wicket?

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