Pumped-up Australia hold edge in the decider

England’s Andrew Flintoff trains at the Oval on Wednesday ahead of the final Ashes Test. AFP

At a time when attendances for five-day matches are plunging worldwide, the fifth and final Test between England and Australia is a sellout and public interest in both countries is high. England, for only the third time in cricket's oldest and most cherished rivalry, go into the final Test needing to win to regain the Ashes.

The home side scraped an unlikely draw in the first Test in Cardiff, then recorded an emphatic victory at Lord's for the first time in an Ashes Test since 1934. They took control at Edgbaston before a final-day rally by Australia secured an honourable draw and were then totally outplayed by the visitors at Headingley.  "You can guarantee it's going to be a very good surface, particularly early," Australia captain Ricky Ponting told reporters.
Still, after Headingley, he has every reason to feel confident with the team. His vice-captain Michael Clarke has played beautifully with two centuries and a 93, Mitchell Johnson has recovered from an awful start to the series to bowl with hostile intent and the backup pace bowling was excellent in the fourth Test. Ponting now has the luxury of choosing between Stuart Clark, whose nagging accuracy brought overdue control to the attack at Headingley, Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz.

Lee has fully recovered from a muscle injury and may win a recall if the selectors think reverse swing will be a factor at the Oval. Hauritz will play if the pitch looks likely to take spin.

England's top-order batsmen failed twice at Headingley, highlighting just how important the injured Kevin Pietersen has been. Jonathan Trott, another South African-born batsman, will make his debut at the Oval in place of Ravi Bopara with Ian Bell moving up to number three.

The last Test of the English summer has provided a stage for the great players to make their farewells and this week Andrew Flintoff will play his final Test before concentrating on one-day cricket.

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