Instead of creating another summit to climb after the one they scaled last week to win the series, England plan to use this final Investec Test as part of their winter campaign when the precious Ashes urn will once again be up for grabs.
That approach is likely to see the return of Chris Tremlett, so lethal on the bouncy pitches of Australia two and half years ago when England won the Ashes there. The Oval is Tremlett’s home ground and while Alastair Cook was non-committal about who would replace the injured Tim Bresnan, Tremlett looks to have won the battle of the giants with Steven Finn. The conundrum of how to win the village fete after triumphing at the Lord Mayor’s show has eluded many teams, even those as nugget-tough as Steve Waugh’s Australians. With the Ashes safe they often lost the last Test of a series and it was only the open-top bus ride through London that England indulged in after winning the 2005 Ashes that led Ricky Ponting’s side to whitewash the old enemy 5-0 in 2006-07, the last time Australia held the urn.
What motivational factors England are using to win this series 4-0, something never before achieved in a home Ashes, is not known in detail but Mark Bawden, the team’s sports psychologist, has been seen having long chats with Cook and the rest of the team on an individual basis over the past two days at the Kia Oval.
Steven Sylvester is a psychologist used by Middlesex CCC, and he feels that Bawden will probably try to recalibrate England’s expectations in order to give this final match meaning.
“It is very hard to lie to ourselves and make out that this match is the most important one when we know it isn’t with the Ashes already won,” Sylvester said. “I would make it a team conversation about breaking the mould and winning 4-0, given no England team has ever done that before at home.”
The party line trotted out by Cook and his players is that they never need any extra motivation when they pull on an England shirt, but Sylvester reckons the emotional brain does not work like that. It might be more believable had Cook and the others tasted those decades of Ashes famine, but most have only known years of plenty with Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell now both quadruple Ashes winners.
“I think it would be very special to win the Investec Ashes 4-0. It has never been done before so that is our motivation as a side,” Cook said yesterday. “We have a lot of record breakers in this team and the chance to add another little notch is a great motivation and any time you can beat Australia is a great feeling.
“When we get to Australia you’ll be saying what’s gone is gone and has no relevance to that first hour in Brisbane but sitting here now those little things can make a difference. If we can continue to put Australia under pressure in certain areas of their play we know that can hopefully count when we go there this winter.”
Sylvester reckons the fact that the urn was not presented at Durham and that many of the players do not believe they have got their dues in the media, something Matt Prior addressed in his Telegraph Sport column on Monday, can also be used as motivation.
With no hoisting of the urn yet, and therefore no public evidence of their victory, won’t it feel strangely ironic if England are presented with their spoils after losing the match?
“When you come to the Oval, every day you walk past pictures of Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss doing it, so knowing I will be the next captain to do it brings a smile to the face,” Cook said. “In an ideal world you want to do it with a victory, but if we did lose the game, we wouldn’t be that deflated. But that’s not an excuse for us to lose this game.”
Cook’s own batting form, as well as that of Jonathan Trott has been below par this series and both men will be keen to make a telling contribution here. Pressing on their disappointment, as well as the success of Bell, who will join the stellar company of Sir Donald Bradman, Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe should he score a fourth Ashes hundred of the series here, will be an extra way of motivating them.
Australia will also be desperate to win, if only to have something to show for their two month odyssey here, and they began boldly by announcing their XI. So far their revolving door policy of selection, which has continued here with the selection of James Faulkner for Usman Khawaja and the return of Mitchell Starc, has seen 17 players take the field against England, the most Australia have ever used in a series abroad.
Unless it is a wake-up call for Shane Watson, dropping a batsman for an all-rounder who has not played much (Faulkner) seems curious when your batting has been failing. Yet it becomes almost reckless when you realise the rough that he and Starc, left-armers both, will create on this very dry Oval pitch for Graeme Swann to torment the right-handers in Australia’s batting order.
“We are trying to win the test match and the selectors have picked this team thinking it will give us the best chance of winning it,” said Michael Clarke, Australia’s captain. “It is about finding a way on that specific day or over the five days to have that success. I know James Faulkner has the strength to do that whether it be with the bat or with the ball.”
From this distance it looks like Australia’s desperation versus England’s compromised desire – a contest the Oval is used to if not the protagonists.