The excitement ahead of the fifth Test is not exactly fever-pitch. Unfavourable comparisons with the epic 2005 Ashes might be a contributing factor to the rather underwhelming build-up, but England’s shambolic effort at Headingley is the main reason why the enthusiasm for an Ashes decider is not what it should be.
There were of course 18 years of Ashes hurt waiting to be salved at the Oval four years ago, but England fans are not usually blasé about the prospect of winning back the urn. England were so bad at Leeds that optimism of winning at the Oval is low.
England start as outsiders, as the tourists have more players in form. Australia have five of the six leading runscorers in the series and the three leading wicket-takers. The decider should be just that, a one-off match that can decided by a special individual performance. Few expect it to come from the hosts.
That is just the way England like it. Unused to leading major series, the home side froze at Headingley when the opportunity was there to clinch the Ashes after winning at Lord’s and dominating most of the Edgbaston Test.
England are once again underdogs, as they were when they arrived at headquarters after being outplayed at Cardiff. It remains to be seen whether England, low on confidence, can play with the necessary freedom to force a win without reverting to reckless attack as they did at Leeds.
The Oval has played host to plenty of draws in championship cricket this season and the lack of faith in England is partly down to the fact that conditions will not favour a positive result. The pitch is flat and a good batting display by the Aussies in the first innings will prove decisive.
However, England should remember that they beat South Africa at the venue last year, thanks largely to the performance of a four-man pace attack that could well re-assemble this week. Whether England expects or not, the Ashes can be won.