The end of a gruelling series for England is finally in sight. All of the optimism and excitement for England’s chances before the series started has evaporated with dismal performances in the first 3 matches. They may have stopped the whitewash with a draw in the Boxing Day Test, albeit on one of the flattest and slowest pitches I have ever seen, but the fact that England haven’t managed a single win has been the most apparent concern.
England have selected the 20 year old leg spinner Mason Crane for this match in place of the injured Chris Woakes, and time will tell whether the youngster is up for the challenge of Test cricket. Crane averages a less than impressive 44 in first class cricket, however you do have to take into consideration the fact that he has played in difficult conditions in England. He will have an extremely tough initiation with David Warner and Steve Smith coming into the game in supreme form, having both scored centuries in the previous game. He will take confidence from the fact that the rest of the Aussie batting lineup has not looked so intimidating. Cameron Bancroft has really struggled since his debut, and the chances surely must be running out for Usman Khawaja who has looked incredibly poor throughout this series. The key for Crane is really just to enjoy himself as this match is a dead rubber, and there isn’t really any pressure on him for his debut which is unusual, but could be a blessing.
Whilst there isn’t any pressure on Crane, there will be pressure felt by James Vince in the England top order. Vince hasn’t backed up the selectors faith in him with any valuable performances, and is averaging less than 30 in the series so far. He surely needs a big hundred to cement his place on the New Zealand tour later on in the year, as there are plenty of players waiting to take his place. Mark Stoneman will also be looking to follow in his opening partner Alastair Cook’s footsteps from the MCG Test by making a big hundred, as he has had a few fifties, but not gone on to convert any of his scores. The same can be said for Joe Root, who threw away yet another century opportunity when he holed out to deep midwicket for 61 in the fourth Test. At this point, it is evidently a mental problem for Root not a technical issue, and surely he has to come good with a hundred in this match.
Australia are looking impressive, but not without weakness. It still could be said that they have an over reliance in their batting on Smith and Warner, but their bowling has not failed to live up to the hype this series. They were without Mitchell Starc for the last game, but he will be back out there at the SCG, no doubt eager to get at the England batsmen. Josh Hazlewood has probably been the best bowler in the series, hitting great lines and lengths with high pace. Pat Cummins has demonstrated great ability to bowl long spells economically, and has shown great prowess with the bat as well, that could potentially see him being moved up the order. A top class spinner has been one of the noticeable differences between the two sides, and Nathan Lyon has far outperformed Moeen Ali in that department, but will now be up against Mason Crane as his opposing spinner.
Overall, the series has been very bleak for England, but they can salvage something out of this game, with a good performance that sees good innings or good bowling from any of their under pressure players or youngsters coming through. I do think, however, that Australia will be too good for England yet again and will seal the series 4-0.