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Faulkner set to debut as England eyes 4-0 scoreline

Watson to bat at No. 3 as Australia rejigs line-up yet again in search of its first win of the 2013 Ashes

Faulkner set to debut as England eyes 4-0 scoreline - Cricket News
James Faulkner will make his debut against a dominant England team, determined to finish the series at 4-0.
England heads to The Oval in London with a chance of producing one of its most dominant series results in Ashes history. Only three times in the last century has Australia failed to win a Test while visiting England: in 1926, 1953, and 1977. Keen to establish itself as a ruthless side, England’s third win at Durham won’t be enough to stop it from looking for a fourth.

The Australians would feel they don’t deserve to join the ranks of earlier winless sides, and it’s hard to disagree. Even 3-1 would be a slightly unfair summary of this series, while 4-0 would be a numerical misrepresentation.

Alastair Cook, England’s captain, said his side was still “desperate to win”, despite conceding that it was “nice not to have the pressure” of the series remaining undecided. England has never won four Tests in a home Ashes, and to do so, said Cook, would be a special achievement.

His counterpart Michael Clarke doesn’t see this as a dead rubber either. “We’ve lost the series but we’ve still got a lot to gain. The fact that we’ve got a lot of cricket to play against England over the next 12 months is extra motivation, but I don’t think we need any extra motivation. We need to go out and perform like we did in Manchester.”

Changes will be few in England’s side, only Tim Bresnan’s injury clearing the way for the giant jaw of Chris Tremlett to chomp its way back into the side, while young left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan has also joined the squad but is unlikely to play. Jonny Bairstow will keep his place for this Test, but could lose his seat on the plane to Australia without an innings of substance.

Australia, though, remains unsettled, declining a great chance to field an unchanged side for once this summer. Ryan Harris will not be rested – it would be poor reward for a man who wants to make up years of lost time, and who is just as likely to re-injure himself buying a carton of juice in a Tesco Metro – while Shane Watson is fit to play. Mitchell Starc, though, continues his career pattern of one Test on, one Test off, replacing Jackson Bird after a single outing.

Far more bizarre and even troubling is James Faulkner making his debut at the expense of Usman Khawaja, another player yet to receive a consistent run at Test level. Dropping a No. 3 batsman for a bowling all-rounder means the nomadic Shane Watson will take Khawaja’s job, with Faulkner at seven.

None of this makes the slightest kind of sense. The hyperbole about this being Australia’s worst Ashes side isn’t true, but mainly because Australia’s bowlers can’t be faulted. England hasn’t passed 400 in eight innings, nor declared once. Its average for completed innings is a modest 319. Without Ian Bell’s three centuries (and an ominous 4 not out ruined by rain), those numbers would be slender indeed. Australia has bowled tightly and in partnerships, as shown by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin moving within three catches of Rod Marsh’s world-record 28 dismissals in a series.

In each Test, even Lord’s, Australia has held dominant positions, mostly by bowling first. Its losses have come about because these positions were surrendered by a top six who can’t perform with any collective regularity. The second coming of Chris Rogers aside, Australia’s batsmen have failed too often. The side may have declared twice, with a high score of 527/7, but its other six innings have seen it bowled out for under 300, with an average score of 239.

Where Australia’s bowlers have been determined and consistent, England’s have been the more dangerous, sporadically producing devastating spells. Jimmy Anderson did the damage at Trent Bridge, Graeme Swann at Lord’s, Stuart Broad at Chester-le-Street. Perhaps it will be Jonathan Trott’s turn at The Oval.

The Australian response to all this is to include a sixth bowler, fill two batting spots with all-rounders who average in the low 30s, and push a boom-bust keeper into the top six. It is a move that could be described as curious.

The decision hints at surrender, giving someone a debut just for the sake of it. While some expect an (all too) late flurry, subsidence looks more likely. England will be confident and relaxed. The Australian panic at Durham, the flinch-like reaction of batsmen playing across the line when Bell had shown the saintly virtue of a straight bat, tell of a batting side whose confidence is not only full of holes, it has an engine on fire.

That said, The Oval has been a place of unlikely triumph and redemption. Think Kevin Pietersen’s Ashes-sealing hundred for the one-time underdogs; Steve Waugh’s 157 on one leg against Caddick, Gough and deep-vein thrombosis; Justin Langer’s comeback hundred as a reinvented opener after Michael Slater was released into the wild.

For Australia, redemption will depend on avoiding despondency. For England, a final chapter of triumph will depend on avoiding complacency. With the series dead, the greater interest may be individual: whether the likes of Starc, Tremlett, Bairstow, or Faulkner can do something to prove they belong at this level. That, more than a win or loss here, may have ramifications for The Ashes Part II, coming soon to an Australian ground near you.

Teams: (likely)

England: Alastair Cook (c), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett

Australia: Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon

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