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The Pinch Hitter is a freelance cricket writer and tipster who has been producing a daily email on the sport since May 2019. Not much top-level cricket goes on without The Pinch Hitter keeping a close eye on it, meaning he is all over the latest statistics, averages, trends and form.
2021-22 Ashes: Fifth Test
The fifth and final Ashes Test was originally scheduled to be held in Perth, Western Australia. However, due to COVID restrictions, the decision has been made to move the game to Hobart, Tasmania. After 71 previous men’s Ashes series, this will be the first time a men’s Ashes Test will be held in Tasmania.
Australia’s hopes of securing a 5-0 Ashes series win were dashed by England in the fourth Test in Sydney on Sunday. Although the hosts were by far the better team throughout the game, they were unable to get the one final England wicket needed to win. Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, England’s veteran bowlers, resisted the final twelve balls and England escaped with a draw.
The fifth Test, which will be played as a day-night pink-ball fixture like the second Test in Adelaide, begins on Friday at 14:30 local time.
Australia vs England, match winner
Australia were agonizingly close to winning the Test match in Sydney and arriving in Hobart with a 4-0 lead. However, due to a combination of wet weather, tiring bowlers and some committed England batting, the hosts just came up short.
That is not to say Australia is now a spent force. They hit 681 runs to England’s 564 and took 19 wickets to England’s 14 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Furthermore, their batting line-up will be boosted by the return of Travis Head who, after hitting a century in the opening Test in Brisbane, missed the Sydney Test with COVID-19. His replacement, Usman Khawaja, became only the third player to make centuries in both innings of a Test in Sydney, and he will no doubt retain his place in the side.
England showed progress in the Sydney Test, producing their best team and individual performances in the series. Bowler Stuart Broad took five wickets in Australia’s first innings and Jonny Bairstow scored England’s first century of the series. Furthermore, England made totals of over 250 in both innings of a Test in Australia for the first time in 10 matches.
However, Joe Root’s side left the fourth Test battered, bruised and with the walking wounded among them. Wicket-keeper Jos Buttler will fly home immediately with a broken finger, while all-rounder Ben Stokes, who made half-centuries in both innings in Sydney, suffered a side-strain on Day 1 and was in considerable pain throughout the rest of the game. Centurion Jonny Bairstow injured his thumb and is 50-50 for the match and pace bowler Mark Wood took a ball flush on his foot when dismissed LBW in the latter stages on Sunday.
Although England managed to hold on for a draw in Sydney, we expect Australia to be too strong again in Tasmania.
Ashes Pick: Australia to win the fifth Test (-139)
A hundred to be scored in the match
The fourth Test produced the highest number of centuries in the series so far with three of the five individual-triple figure scores coming in Sydney. This could be due to a number of factors. Firstly, the batters are improving as the series progresses and are spending more time playing this format of the game. Secondly, an Ashes series is particularly draining on the pace bowlers, some of whom have had barely a few days rest throughout the last four weeks. Finally, the pressure is off for both sets of batters. Australia has regained the Ashes and there is no longer a 5-0 series whitewash up for grabs.
On the other hand, there are some bowlers who would like this contest to go into a sixth or even seventh Test. Australian pace bowler Scott Boland made his Test debut in Melbourne and has since returned some of the most impressive bowling figures ever seen. He has taken 14 wickets at an average of 8.64 runs. For context, Australia captain Pat Cummins, widely recognized as the best pace bowler in the world, averages 21.53.
Overall, it would be a big shock if no batter on either side scores a century in Hobart.
Ashes Pick: A hundred to be scored in the match (-500)
Player of the match
Although we have not seen an Ashes Test in Tasmania before, this will be the 13th Test match played at the venue. The last Test was in 2016 when Australia was thrashed by South Africa, who won by an innings and 80 runs. Crucially, all 30 wickets to fall in the game were taken by pace bowlers and South African quick Kyle Abbott was awarded the Player of the Match award after recording match figures of 9-118.
The long-range weather forecast is for humid and overcast conditions, the type of weather which seam and swing bowlers relish. We should also remember that this will be played under floodlights and with a pink ball which always swings more in the first 30 overs of an innings.
With England’s batting frailties still visible, and Scott Boland making Test cricket look like one of the easiest jobs in the world, we consider Boland a prime candidate for the Player of the Match award.
Pick: Scott Boland to win the Player of the Match award (+1400)
The 72nd men’s Ashes series gets underway at The Gabba, Brisbane on December 8th. These contests are always eagerly anticipated by players and cricket followers across the globe, with patriotic media either side ensuring that all supporters are fired up ahead of the first game.
This series has already been on the front pages, after Australia’s Tim Paine stepped down as captain only 20 days before the start of the First Test. Australia are the current holders of the Ashes Urn after beating England 4-0 in Australia in 2017-18 and then retaining the trophy with a 2-2 draw in England in 2019. Here are some of our outright picks ahead of the series.
Most runs (Australia)
Traditionally, the pitches in Australia are excellent for batters and the home side registered nine centuries during the last Ashes series in Australia.
Former captain Steve Smith hit three hundreds as well as passing 50 twice, ending the 2017-18 series with a batting average of 137.40. Smith is widely recognized as one of the greatest batters of all time but lost the Test captaincy after a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018. After serving a 12-month ban, he has averaged 63.85 and has contributed seven centuries in 11 Tests.
Other contenders for the highest run scorer for Australia are Marnus Labuschagne, who is averaging 74.25 in Tests in 2021, and David Warner, who was also banned for a year alongside Smith. Warner opens the batting, is a fiery character and has three Test hundreds to his name against England.
Pick: Steve Smith to score the highest number of runs for Australia (+137)*
Most runs (England)
Batting conditions in Australia are typically easier than in England as they use a different brand of cricket ball - which does not swing to the same degree. Furthermore, due to the sunnier weather conditions, the pitches are harder, making the bounce and pace of the ball more reliable.
England captain Joe Root is the leading run scorer in Test cricket during 2021 after hitting two double-centuries and four hundreds. His form is all-the-more impressive when you consider that he has registered scores over 100 in Sri Lanka, India and on home soil. However, this will be Joe Root’s third Ashes tour in Australia and he is yet to reach triple figures in opposition territory.
England all-rounder Ben Stokes is also a fantastic batter who made a century in Australia in only his second Test appearance in 2013. He also single-handedly took England to victory at Headingley, Leeds, during the 2019 Ashes when he scored 135 not-out in the fourth innings of the match. However, Stokes missed the 2017-18 Ashes tour due to an off-field incident and has not played Test cricket since March.
Pick: Joe Root to score the highest number of runs for England (-106)*
Most wickets (Australia)
None of England’s bowlers took over 17 wickets during the 2017-18 series whereas Australia had four bowlers all taking between 21 and 23. Australia are famed for having aggressive pace bowlers and their most successful sides have always contained a quality spin option.
New skipper Pat Cummins finished as the leading wicket taker in the last two Ashes series. He is a fast bowler who combines hostility and accuracy to good effect. However, will the additional pressure and constant media scrutiny negatively affect his performances?
Mitchell Starc is another candidate with the ball for Australia and is the fastest bowler in their line-up. Although he often serves up easy-to-hit balls for the opposition batters, he is famed for combining them with unplayable deliveries which would dismiss the world’s best.
Australia also has an excellent spin bowler in their bowling attack. Nathan Lyon took 21 wickets in 2017-18 and begins this series with 399 Test wickets. He is vastly experienced and has a reputation for winding up the England players and fans on and off the pitch.
Pick: Pat Cummins to take the most wickets for Australia (+200)*
Most wickets (England)
England had put together carefully considered plans for this series so that their fastest bowlers would arrive rested and raring to go. However, these plans have been disrupted by injuries to Jofra Archer and Olly Stone, who will both play no part across the five Tests.
James Anderson, now 39, will lead England’s bowling attack in his fifth Ashes tour. Although the conditions in Australia are not ideal for the swing bowler, but he has developed an incredible level of accuracy over the past few years and is always a threat. Anderson has 632 Test wickets across his career including 60 from 18 matches in Australia.
Another experienced bowler in the England squad is Stuart Broad, who has 524 Test wickets since his debut in 2007. Broad is often mocked by the unforgiving Australian supporters and media who never miss an opportunity to remind him of an incident during the 2013 Ashes. After edging debutant Ashton Agar to the slip fielder, Broad was given not-out by the umpire and didn’t ‘walk’. This was considered to go against everything cricket has always stood for in terms of fair play and gentlemanly conduct.
Other bowlers to consider for England are Ollie Robinson, who made his debut earlier this year, and Mark Wood - who is their fastest bowler but prone to injury.
Pick: James Anderson to take the most wickets for England (+250)*
Final result of series
As there are five Tests during the series, predicting the exact result is always very tough. For instance, the 2019 Ashes was the first to end in a draw since 1972 and there had been 24 series in the interim.
There are plenty of indicators from recent history which we can use to help forecast the final result. For example, of the last 10 Ashes series, the away team has only come out on top in 2010-11 - when England won 3-1. England also has a very poor record in Australia, since that 2011 victory they have lost nine of 10 Tests there, drawing the other.
To counter this, we should consider the impact of Australia’s preparation being disrupted by captain Tim Paine’s resignation. Furthermore, the return of England’s talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes is a huge boost for the tourists.
We expect England to end their recent drought of Test victories in Australia but the hosts to emerge with a series win.
Pick: Australia to win 3-2 (+700)*
*All odds correct at time of publication.
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