LONDON: England captain Alastair Cook won the toss and elected to field against Australia in the fifth and final Ashes Test at The Oval on Thursday.
A green-tinged pitch and overcast skies offered encouragement to England’s pacemen who had twice skittled Australia cheaply in their last two first innings this series.
This was especially the case in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge where Australia collapsed to 60 all out on the first morning, with Stuart Broad taking eight for 15, in a match England won by an innings and 78 runs to take an unbeatable 3-1 lead in the five-match series.
“The wicket looks good again but with a tinge of green grass,” said Cook of The Oval pitch.
“With the overhead conditions and rain last night it might do a little bit early on. It is down to us to get ball in the right place, if not it will be a good batting wicket.”
England have never won four Tests in a home Ashes series and Cook said: “We want to try to end the summer on a high. We have a great end of the series whatever happens, but we want to do ourselves justice.”
England were unchanged after deciding against recalling all-time leading Test wicket-taker James Anderson, still ruled out with a side injury that also forced him to miss the fourth Test.
Australia, however, made two changes in what was a final international match before retirement for both captain Michael Clarke and opening batsman Chris Rogers.
They recalled all-rounder Mitchell Marsh in place of older brother and top-order batsman Shaun Marsh, while experienced paceman Peter Siddle was brought into the side for his first Test of this series after edging out Pat Cummins in the race to replace the injured Josh Hazlewood.
“The fact we haven’t performed as we should have done has meant selectors have made the changes throughout the series but in this last match we know we have to come out and play some good cricket,” said Clarke.
“This wicket has a fair amount of grass on it and Sids (Siddle) gives us control.”
As for his looming retirement, the 34-year-old Clarke said: “I haven’t thought too much about it, it has been all about being focused on helping Australia win this Test match and contributing some runs.”
Turning to Rogers, Australia’s best batsman this series, Clarke added: “He’s played really well throughout this series and I hope he can finish on a high.”
England: Adam Lyth, Alastair Cook (capt), Ian Bell, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wkt), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, Steven Finn Australia: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Steven Smith, Michael Clarke (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wkt), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
Umpires: Aleem Dar (PAK), Kumar Dharmasena (SRI)
TV umpire: S Ravi (IND)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)
Weather: Top temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, cloudy
Pitch conditions: A green-tinged pitch could, for the third match in a row, make life tough for batsmen early on.