Ashes - Fifth Test preview: England set to gamble on rookies

Australia v England, fifth Ashes Test of five-match series - The SCG, Sydney: January 2-6, starting 23:30 UK time. Australia lead the series 4-0.


Australia's Ryan Harris and Shane Watson both bowled without apparent discomfort in the nets and captain Michael Clarke expects to lead the same team out for a fifth successive Test. Only fitness and a tactical decision to bring in bowling all-rounder James Faulkner to exploit a green-tinged SCG wicket appear remotely likely in the way of potential changes to the team.

All-rounder Watson was the biggest concern for the hosts after a groin strain restricted his bowling in the fourth Test in Melbourne but he and paceman Harris, whose right knee is a perennial concern, looked to be holding nothing back on Thursday and should be fit to take his place in the line-up.

England are considering the prospect of blooding three Test debutants as they try to avoid an Ashes whitewash in Sydney. Captain Alastair Cook confirmed batsman Gary Ballance, tall fast bowler Boyd Rankin and leg-spinner Scott Borthwick are all in the reckoning for the final Test. A return looks very unlikely for wicketkeeper Matt Prior, dropped for last week's fourth successive defeat in Melbourne.

Monty Panesar reported a calf strain after fielding drills on New Year's Even but 24 hours later was able to bowl unhindered in the nets. Even so, it seems likely either Borthwick or James Tredwell may get the nod as England's spinner after Panesar's mediocre performance at the MCG.

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Michael Clarke: "I think the desire burns within every single player in the changing room. I said that before Melbourne and I think we showed with the way we played at the MCG and this Test is no different, it's just as important. We want to continue to run with the momentum we have at the moment and continue playing good cricket and getting the results we've been getting. I don't have any idea of the team at this stage, I think we're waiting to see how the guys pull up tomorrow morning. I think it would be extremely romantic (to stick with the same line-up) but I think you've got to pick the best 11 players to help you have success in the conditions you're playing"

Alastair Cook: "It's very dangerous if you always look to the future - (you should) always try to pick a side to win the Test you're playing. The only time you start looking to the future is if you have two players of similar standing, but one's 36 and the other is 22. You'd pick the younger guy, thinking he'd have more to add to the future of English cricket. We want to start with a win here. It gives people who might not have played in this series the chance to make a difference. They can think that if they score a hundred here...they'll get to play another Test and try to make a difference."


Do England make all three changes or stick with experience? Cook and coach Andy Flower must gauge England's chances of salvaging some pride in Sydney against a strategy for the longer term - in which both have recently admitted a transitional team is entering a new era. That might, of course, tip the balance here towards 23-year-old Borthwick rather than Tredwell - who will be 32 next month. One seems sure, along with Ballance and perhaps Rankin, to have an opportunity not just to try to bail out England on this tour but to pencil his name into future plans.


Australia: Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), Steven Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.

England: Alastair Cook (capt), Joe Root, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Scott Borthwick, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Boyd Rankin.


Australia: WWWWD

England: LLLLD


The pitch reportedly has more grass on it than the usual SCG wicket and is expected to provide plenty for the seam bowlers as well as a touch of spin. Light showers are forecast to play a very fleeting part in proceedings but temperatures of 22-27 degrees ensure good conditions for both sides.


A series whitewash for Australia would be their third Ashes clean sweep after doing so in 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.


Australia 4/6 - England 3/1 - Draw 4/1

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