England open to early issues
Dave Tickner previews the fifth and final Ashes Test and is willing to take on England's opening partnership.
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An Ashes series with a one-sided scoreline from four generally not-that-one-sided games reaches its conclusion at The Oval this week in what looks a trappy affair for punters.
With England 3-0 up and the urn secure, motivation becomes a key factor. This is a new experience for England; while they may have retained the Ashes in Melbourne in 2010/11, the series wasn't safe until the victory in Sydney the following week. None of this England side know what it's like to have won an Ashes series with a match to spare, and we cannot be certain how they'll react.
Going back to the time of Australian dominance, the Oval Test was often a chance for England to bag a late consolation, winning in both 1993 and 1997 with the series long gone.
In Australia, too, England picked up similar victories in Melbourne (1998/9) and Sydney (2002/3) to suggest that it's not just the rigours of touring that made the Baggy Green machine malfunction after the main objective was achieved.
Will England do the same? Is there chance for Australia to nick a victory here at 14/5? After all, Australia have not - Lord's apart - been thrashed out of sight in this series. They could have won at Trent Bridge, were likely winners at Old Trafford before rain intervened and appeared in control for much of proceedings at Durham before things went dramatically wrong.
A dry weather forecast and everything we've seen in the series to date points to a positive result, but the Australians are perhaps now a touch too short at under 3/1.
England, if anything, are more appealing at evens. They are a side used to winning and - in a change to the circumstances of those late-series upsets of old - will be keen to keep Australia down heading into the winter's reverse series.
Team news is also a factor here. England have lost Tim Bresnan to a back injury. They will either bring in Chris Tremlett, lengthening the tail, or Chris Woakes, which is a significant loss in terms of experience.
Bresnan's record - in Ashes cricket especially - means the effect of his absence should not be underestimated. Stuart Broad may have taken the headlines in Durham, but it was Bresnan who made crucial lower-order runs and took the tide-turning wicket of Dave Warner during the run-chase.
For Australia, Ryan Harris may well be rested after exceeding all expectations by playing three straight Tests. It would be understandable, if disappointing, to see him kept out of harm's way with the return series in mind.
If Harris does play, Jackson Bird is likely to make way for Mitchell Starc who will claim the dubious honour of having been dropped and recalled twice in a five-match series.
Further rearranging of the batting deckchairs on the Australian Titanic is also possible.
With so many uncertainties, I'm leaving the win market alone this week even though the only option I would seriously urge against at the prices available is the draw.
Instead I'll turn to the one key, consistent area of weakness for England throughout the series: the top of the batting order.
The new-look opening partnership has not been a success, with Alastair Cook looking well short of his best and still searching for his first home Ashes century (the England captain averages just 25.88 with four half-centuries from his nine Ashes Tests in England and Wales) while Joe Root has played one of the finest innings of the series in the second innings at Lord's but has been dismissed for 16 or under in five of his eight innings and has a second-highest score in the series of just 30.
Their struggles have seen England's opening partnerships produce deeply disappointing results. Indeed, they've failed to reach 50 without loss at any stage in the series, with stands of 27, 11, 18, 22, 47, 0, 34 and 17.
888sport offer 7/8 for England's first wicket to fall before there are 32 runs on the board. That's happened in six of eight innings so far and looks a perfectly fair price even if Harris were to sit this one out.