I will travel to the Oval with trepidation and fear; luckily I only live 10 minutes away. For this Test I don’t want to be in the press box (luckily the ECB agree) as this will be a nervy Test, and I need alcohol to settle me down.

Australia should win (shouldn’t they?), but I have never been in England for a Test this important. If we lose, oh god, how much bullshit will I have to hear from casual English cricket fans. If we win I can be the arrogant blowhard who laughs at English cricket, like so many Aussies in London before me.

Ashes series are only played every four years in the hearts and minds of the average English fan (the Australian series are in a shocking time zone). So this is like the Olympic final of Tests.

Technically Australia only needs a draw to win this series, but Australia won’t play for a draw, and even if they did they would be rubbish at it.

If Australia could play for draws, this would be the ideal pitch. Only a few weeks ago Leicestershire made 5/593 Declared (one run out) with a teenager making 207 not out, and Surrey replied with 4/608 Declared, with Mark Ramprakash and Aussie Stewart Walters putting on a partnership of 405.

It is fair to say this isn’t a bowling graveyard, it’s a freeway paved over an ancient bowlers burial ground.

England has decided on leaving Ramps out of this Test, instead they have decided to honour their South African quota by picking Jonathan Trott, the terrifically inform Warwickshire batsman who is over 10 years younger than Ramps. The whisper is that Trott doesn’t like the short stuff, and with Australia probably playing the same unchanged four seamers attack, he will get plenty of it.

The major change for the English is Andrew Flintoff. He is not merely the heart of the English team; he is almost every vital organ they have. Without him at Headingley the team looked soulless. And even though he might not have changed the result in that one, in his last test he could well be the difference.

He is still a gimp, but I can only imagine the crowd reaction to him coming on to bowl will be so intense that he will forgot all about the fact he may never walk properly again and give his all.

It looks like Graham Onions is the player to be dropped for Freddie. He has taken 10 wickets at 30 this series, but The Oval pitch does have bounce, so England want Steve Harmison instead.

My heart and head says Australia should retain the Ashes. I am hoping for a last day edge-of-the-seat, cliff hanging, tight-roped contest, but I fear this shall be more of a turgid batting draw.

England’s only hope is an Australian batting collapse. On this pitch it doesn’t look likely.

*Go to Crikey’s Ashes homepage for the latest coverage

Peter Fray

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