| GEO Sports|
| Ashes rivals enter final test tomorrow|
| Updated at: 2112 PST, Wednesday, August 19, 2009|
LONDON: Australia and England enter a series-deciding Test match all-square tomorrow with cricket’s oldest rivalry set for one of its most dramatic climaxes.
The last time the teams were 1-1 going into the final Test was in 1966. Blocking out the momentum swings of the previous contests may be the key to winning at the Oval in London, players said.
“The four Test matches that have gone are exactly that -- gone,” Australia vice-captain Michael Clarke told reporters. “It’s one-all, this is the important Test match and this is what we’re focused on. It’s a huge game.”
As the current holder, Australia needs only a draw to retain the Ashes -- whose origins sprang from its win over England at the Oval 127 years ago. Defeat would consign Australia to a second straight series loss in England and drop it from No. 1 in the official Test rankings for the first time in six years.
Four years ago at the Oval, England secured a draw to seal a 2-1 victory and end a run of eight straight series defeats to Australia. Thousands lined the streets at a victory parade in London and the players quaffed drinks at Downing Street with then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The memories of that loss will motivate Australia, said touring captain Ricky Ponting, who described the fifth and final match as the biggest in a 14-year career during which he’s won every major trophy.
“I have played in 135 Test matches but never played in a match as big as this one,” Ponting wrote in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph this week. “You have to grab these moments when they present themselves because you may never experience such a match ever again.”
England allrounder Andrew Flintoff, the player of the 2005 series, agreed with Ponting’s assessment that the match will be “the biggest I’ll ever play in.” Flintoff will play his 79th and last Test before retiring, provided he proves his fitness.
Flintoff missed England’s innings and 80-run defeat in the fourth Test because of a knee injury and has been training with a brace. He said the momentum Australia gained at Headingley is unlikely to count in what is a “one-off” match.
“Whatever’s happened before it’s going to be how the two teams react to the pressure of such a big occasion,” Flintoff told reporters. “The team that does it best will take the honors at the end of it.”
The teams are yet to name their lineups, though England batsman Jonathan Trott will make his Test debut after replacing the dropped Ravi Bopara, who made 105 runs at an average of 15 in the first four matches. Australia hasn’t ruled out picking fast bowler Brett Lee, who hasn’t played a Test since December.
The home team’s middle order will be under extra scrutiny after England slumped to 102 and 263 at Headingley as the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 batsmen tallied just 16 runs between them over two innings, England’s worst return in 132 years of elite Tests.
“Trott’s going to feel the nerves, going to be under pressure, so the sooner we can get him in the better,” said Clarke, who’s scored a series-leading 445 runs at 89.00.
With rain forecast during the five-day Test and the ground producing an average first-innings total of 421 this century, a draw is the favored result with U.K. and Australian bookmakers.
“Both sides have a genuine fear of losing this match,” said Neil Evans, a spokesman for Australian bookmaker Centrebet, which has taken five times as many bets on the draw as the two teams put together. “Australia will have only one mission going in, win the toss and pile on as many runs imaginable.”
While a drawn series would be enough for the Australians to retain the Ashes, such a result would also see them fall off the top spot in the ICC rankings for the first time since the current system was introduced in 2003. South Africa would become the new No. 1.