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Can England Brave out the Australian Storm for a Draw in the Fifth Test?

Can England brave out the Australian storm for a draw in the fifth Test?

Ben Stokes pictured on September 4, 2019© Reuters
Going into the Fifth Test at The Oval, the best England can now hope for is a drawn series. Even that would be a significant disappointment. In addition to the fact that Australia will retain the Ashes whatever happens in London, it will be a result that will very much go against the grain. After all, the last four Ashes Series have been won by the home side and pretty comfortably at that.

And even a drawn Series seems a long way away for Joe Root and his troops. After all, Australia's two wins in the Series were comprehensive ones (admittedly they left it a bit late to win the Old Trafford Test but they were nonetheless favourites for pretty much the whole game) while England's one win at Headingley was a once-in-a-lifetime turnaround that was purely down to Ben Stokes' individual brilliance.

Proof of the fact that an England win at The Oval will require a seriously good effort from Root, Ben Stokes and co are the cricket betting odds on offer, where Australia are favourites; the draw is the outsider of the three results.

The result of course is important because losing 3-1 will look very differently in the history books to 2-2 or the somewhat more unlikely 2-1 (if the Oval Test does end a draw) but of greater importance to England are the lessons learnt and the areas of improvement that Root, the next England coach and the ECB as a whole need to focus on.

Here are some of the good and bad things we've learnt about this England side over the last few weeks.

Ben Stokes Superstar
To single-handedly turn around a World Cup final is one thing. To get your side over the line in an almost-impossible run chase in a different format (and in an Ashes series no less) just a few weeks later is the sort of achievement reserved for the select few. Even Sir Ian Botham never managed to pull off that sort of double feat.

But then again, that's precisely what Ben Stokes is. He's the sort of can-do-it-all player who comes around once in a generation. Before this summer we all knew he could bowl and that he was one of the greatest fielders in the world. We also knew he could certainly bat but what's taken us all by surprise is his ability to handle such pressure and not feel it. Plenty of other players have the skill to have mastered those two run chases but not many would have had the bottle as well.

In two out of the four matches so far, this Ashes series Stokes has been man-of-the-match: the draw at Lord's where he scored a third-innings century and the win at Headingley where he got England home. That says a lot about his contributions and importance to the side.

England's challenge with Stokes is to manage his workload. As a three-dimensional cricketer and with the extra responsibility of being vice-captain, he can't be playing every match. Add IPL commitments to the equation and you think something has to give.

Brilliant Archer has to be Wrapped up in Cotton Wool
If Stokes' workload needs to be managed, then that's even more true of Jofra Archer. As a fast bowler bending his back in generating deliveries up to 94mph and often bowling short, England must avoid the temptation of asking too much of him. Yes, ask him to bowl fiery spells but do so in bursts of four or five overs, not spells of seven or eight.

It was notable that at Old Trafford, despite having had the best part of two weeks' rest, Archer wasn't at his best after his efforts at Headingley.

It's hard to remember the last time England had as exciting a prospect with the ball as Archer and he really is a special talent. But just like with Stokes, they have to realise he's a cricketer and not a machine.

Tossing him the ball all the time is the easy and foolish option. If they want him around for the next eight years or so, they'll have to pick and choose his schedule and wrap him up in cotton wool when he's not involved.

Roy has to go, Denly on Probation
Jason Roy isn't a Test cricketer and never will be because of a technique developed with the white ball game in mind. If anything, persisting with trying to make him a Test batsman may also ruin his limited-overs exploits in the future. It was an experiment gone wrong and one the Selectors need to admit to as soon as possible. Cut your losses, move on.

Joe Denly is a slightly different case. His technique is far more suited to the longest format and he seems to have more patience and discipline than Roy. Yes, there have been one too many low score this Series but you get the feeling there's a decent Test cricketer in there somewhere and he may deserve one more chance. Having said that, England need to decide whether they think he's an opener, number three or number four.

The James Anderson Headache
For a decade England have papered over the cracks by having James Anderson on board. They've won just about every home series in that period largely due to his incredible ability to make the most of English conditions, swinging the ball prodigiously as long as there's even the smallest appearance of cloud cover overhead or movement in the wicket.

It's telling that they've been far less successful away from home when the ball hasn't swung for him (though admittedly all teams are better at home than away) or on the few occasions when he hasn't been available. Such as this one.

But it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that he got injured this time round. Anderson is 37, has being playing international cricket for 16 years and been involved in 149 Tests and 194 ODIs. The only strange thing is that his body didn't break down a long time ago.

He may well recover to play a few more Tests over the next year or so but anything more than that would be a huge bonus.

It means England need to start preparing for life after Anderson. The rapid emergence of Jofra Archer will help soften the blow but Stuart Broad is no spring chicken either at 33.

Replacing in Anderson a man with 575 Test wickets- the fourth-most in Test history and the most among pace bowlers- is of course easier said than done. And if there was a load of young talent coming through then the England Selectors would have given them a chance by now.

But beyond the Curran brothers – Tom and Sam – the cupboard is pretty bare in terms of promising English bowlers and it's too late in the day to go back to the likes of Graham Onions, Liam Plunkett, Toby-Roland Jones or Steven Finn.

The Selectors will just have to follow the County circuit more closely, pick some youngsters who they believe in and throw them in at the deep end following the principle that developing them is more important than match results in the short term.
There's certainly plenty of work to do over the next year or so.

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