Saturday, September 12, 2009
Start time 10.15 (9.15 GMT)
Laughable as it now seems, England could have gone above Australia in the ODI rankings had they managed to win this seven-match series by at least five games to two. Three defeats later, and the limit of their ambitions would now appear to be the avoidance of a 7-0 whitewash.
Even that is beginning to appear beyond them. Two inept run-chases at The Oval and Lord's were followed by an even worse attempt to set a defendable target at The Rose Bowl, and the over-riding sensation as England's longest home season winds to a close is one of desperate ennui.
The full houses for the first three matches cannot disguise the antipathy in the stands. The pricey tickets were sold well in advance, at a time when the prospect of watching England v Australia in an Ashes summer was still a tantalising one. Now, like the players, they are turning up out of duty rather than expectation. With the Champions Trophy looming in South Africa in barely a fortnight's time, Lord's last international fixture of 2009 is unlikely to provide many lasting memories.
Australia, inevitably, start favourites, because they have the incentive of a slice of history to drive them on - no team has ever been whitewashed 7-0, although England themselves came close before their ODI tour to India was curtailed last year. With Ricky Ponting slotting back into the captaincy fresh from a well-earned week's break, there's no question that Australia's desire will be maintained. England, on the other hand, have taken the opposite route. Paul Collingwood and James Anderson have been rested, a fairly sure sign that the series has already been surrendered.
(last five matches, most recent first)
England - LLLWW
Australia - WWWWL
Watch out for…
Ricky Ponting was last seen in England with puffy lips and the thousand-yard stare of the vanquished after losing the Ashes decider at The Oval. He subsequently announced his retirement from Twenty20 cricket, a decision designed to prolong his international career and give him the best possible chance of returning to England for one final shot at the Ashes in 2013. Where that leaves his ODI ambitions remains less clear, but for the moment he's back at the helm, and doubtless thirsting to exact some measure of revenge for the indignities of the summer.
Stuart Broad has been sitting on the sidelines for the last two matches, having suffered a neck strain during the opening ODI. But he's sure to be fit for this contest, and England need him to live up to his new star billing if they are to reclaim any of the series momentum. With Anderson absent, he can expect to claim the new ball, and his canny command of line, length and subtle variation could prove well suited to England's sluggish late-season wickets.
Collingwood and Anderson are rested, having been ever-present in all England's teams since the tour of the Caribbean in February. Broad is one sure-fire returnee, with Adil Rashid also extremely likely to be given a chance to build on his promising debut at The Oval. Joe Denly is also fit after his football injury ahead of the first match.
England (possible): 1 Ravi Bopara, 2 Andrew Strauss (capt), 3 Matt Prior (wk), 4 Owais Shah, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Luke Wright, 7 Stuart Broad, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Tim Bresnan, 11 Ryan Sidebottom.
Ponting returns for his first match of the series, with Michael Clarke relinquishing the captaincy and Cameron White shunting down the order despite his century in the Rose Bowl victory. He will probably displace James Hopes at No. 7, as Australia seek to make as few changes as possible to a victorious line-up.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 Cameron White, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Brett Lee, 11 Nathan Bracken.
Pitch and conditions
It's mid-September, so there's only so much that can be hoped for, although autumn appears to have been postponed right now, and so a full match is in prospect. Lord's has not been the paciest surface in recent seasons, and on the evidence of the second match, spin is likely to play a sizeable role.
Stats and trivia
Lord's hosted the first Test against West Indies on May 6, which was the earliest-ever start to an international in England. The ground is now hosting its latest international of all time, beating the September 8 match against India in 2007.
"We haven't played well enough, clearly, but I don't think it's for lack of trying."
Andrew Strauss tries to stay positive, but it's a struggle.
"I think, if we keep playing good, consistent cricket, keep bowling and fielding well, there's no reason why not."
Can Australia win 7-0? Cameron White reckons so.
"We haven't had a good one-day side since 1992. They had a good one-day side then. So we have got to do something about it, and that is part of my job. We are investing a lot of time and thought into why one-day cricket in England isn't as good as it should be, and hasn't been for a long time. And how we are going to build a good one-day side."
England's coach, Andy Flower, faces up to the challenge of improving England's limited-overs fortunes