The whitewash is no longer up for grabs by Australia after England’s resistance in Sydney, but a 4-0 Ashes win would be a fine start to Pat Cummins‘ captaincy (with a little help from Steven Smith). For Joe Root, it is a chance to build on the fight shown at the SCG before the tour is picked through back home and futures are debated. A victory would be pretty remarkable after what happened in Melbourne and could yet have a bearing on who stays and goes.
The first thing for England has been to try and piece together a team amid the walking wounded from last week. Jos Buttler has flown home, meaning a likely Test debut for Sam Billings as wicketkeeper. Ben Stokes is expected to fight through the pain of his side injury as a batter only, but it might be too much for Jonny Bairstow to do the same with his thumb. James Anderson is tipped to be rested which means his career in Australia came to an end when he defended the last ball from Smith in Sydney.
Australia’s series has answered a lot of questions about the Test team, but not everything. Alex Carey could do with a good match to shore up his position ahead of the Pakistan tour. They have made the big call to drop Marcus Harris and open with Usman Khawaja, but whether that is a long-term pairing remains to be seen.
Their depth of fast bowling has been key, with Mitchell Starc being the only one to play all five Tests – although Pat Cummins would have done if not for being a close contact in Adelaide – while both Scott Boland and Jhye Richardson have taken five-wicket hauls after coming into the side.
Both the teams won’t have to wait long before they are next in Test action providing everything goes ahead as planned, with Australia set to tour Pakistan in March and England heading to the West Indies. From a cricket point of view, Root is the one with much to ponder ahead of that provided he stays in the job, while all eyes will be on whether there are any withdrawals from Australia’s trip.
Away from the two XIs that will take the field this week, this is a huge moment for cricket in Tasmania after Hobart was handed the Test when Western Australia’s border restrictions prevented it going to Perth. It is their first Ashes contest and their first match in the format since 2016. Despite the significant impact of Covid-19, excellent crowds are expected across the first three days. It has been termed by some as the biggest occasion in Tasmania’s history. Hopefully the action on the field lives up to that.
(Last five matches; most recent first)
In the spotlight
It has been a relatively quiet series by Steven Smith‘s high standards with an average of 36.16, his lowest in an Ashes series since his first appearance – as a lower-order batter and spinner – in 2010-11. If he doesn’t reach three figures in Hobart, it will be his first Ashes without a hundred since the contest at the SCG 11 years ago. The Bellerive Oval is also the only ground in Australia where Smith has played more than a single Test without a century.
Can Stuart Broad sign off from Australia with a victory? He has only been involved in one Test win down under – in Adelaide in 2010-11 – during which he suffered a series-ending injury. He was probably the most pumped player in the middle of the SCG when Anderson defended the final delivery, having made his point to the selectors with a five-wicket haul earlier in the match. Having missed the two most helpful pitches of the series in Brisbane and Melbourne, he will hope the grass cover stays in Hobart.
Harris has lost his place to accommodate the in-form Khawaja but was assured by Cummins that he remains in Australia’s plans. Travis Head returns to the middle order after recovering from Covid-19. The hosts will decide on the pace attack on the morning of the game, but things were looking promising for Scott Boland after he came through training.
Australia (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Jhye Richardson/Scott Boland, 11 Nathan Lyon
It is likely to be musical chairs for England with five changes expected if Bairstow can’t be risked. That would open the door for Ollie Pope to return in the middle order, which will also probably feature debutant Billings. Mark Wood is likely to play again, meaning three Tests in a row for someone who has strained every sinew in this series.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Zak Crawley, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Ollie Pope/Jonny Bairstow, 7 Sam Billings (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Ollie Robinson, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Stuart Broad
Pitch and conditions
The pitch remained green the day before the game but there was some uncertainty as to how it will play. It may need a brave decision at the toss. There are showers forecast on the first two days, but later in the match looks set fair.
Stats and trivia
If he debuts – which is entirely possible – then Billings will be England’s 700th men’s Test cricketer.
The last time Hobart staged a day-night first-class match was in 2016, and in the three games overall, the batting average is 28.03.
Only on three occasions have England not passed 300 in a series of at least five matches, with their current top score in this series being 297.
“There’s a bit of grass. Don’t really know what to expect. Especially in the first few days hopefully there’s a bit of seam, a bit of swing, think it’s going to be a little bit humid. Every pink-ball [Test] feels like there’s a lot of unknowns coming into it, probably more so here not knowing the venue.”
Pat Cummins on conditions in Hobart
“He’s a wonderful player. It was a phenomenal effort. What he managed to achieve last week was truly brilliant, so we need to make sure we keep him quiet as best we can.”
Joe Root on Usman Khawaja’s century-filled comeback