The Ashes are won. Nevertheless, Australia needs to chase a 3-1 result to emphasise their ascendancy over England and confirm their re-emergence as a nation at the top of the ICC Test rankings, where they are currently ranked five.
The Australian team is not without flaws. The bowlers generally performed well but only two batsmen – Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne – should feel confident of retaining their places.
The bowlers need to be managed carefully in readiness for the Australian summer. Nathan Lyon may need to rest his finger and Pat Cummins cannot be over-bowled.
Consideration needs to be given to picking Peter Siddle and James Pattinson. Siddle can replace Lyon, and Pattinson can come in to assist Cummins with Mitchell Starc as an aggregate all-rounder.
Opening is critical and has been a strength for Australian teams in the past. But three out of the four openers have failed this series.
Usman Khawaja averages 96.8 when opening, albeit from only seven innings – one of which was 141 in October 2018 against Pakistan in Dubai. Khawaja’s current Ashes series average is 20.33 compared with Harris’ 11.5, Bancroft’s 11 and Warner’s 9.87. On these figures, Australia should pick Khawaja.
We have not seen the last of Warner but his form is terrible. He now has three ducks in a row and needs a rest. Hopefully Justin Langer – who knows a bit about being a left-handed opener – can identify and repair the problem.
As well as score runs, openers need to absorb deliveries to tire the opposition attack and take the shine off the ball. Of the potential openers, Cameron Bancroft has faced the most balls per innings this series, with 162 balls from four knocks. Khawaja is second with 188 balls over six.
Bancroft benefits from being the only right-handed batsman among the four openers. The benefits of a left-right handed opening combination are well known.
The selectors should pick Khawaja and Bancroft to open for the fifth Test.
Travis Head has not performed to expectations but has consistently made starts. Hopefully batting coach Graeme Hick can help the South Australian convert his starts into big scores. With no obvious alternatives at number 5, Head remains.
Tim Paine should be promoted to bat at number 6 where he can be the fulcrum of the innings. He merely needs to hold an end while Smith, Labuschagne or Head are in.
Batting at numbers 7, 8 and 9 respectively are the aggregate all-rounders Pattinson, Cummins and Starc. The selection of an extra bowler allows for effective workload management.
Josh Hazlewood can come in at number ten, followed by Siddle at 11 if Lyon’s finger prevents him from playing.
Hazlewood and Cummins would open the bowling. They – along with Pattinson and Siddle – will stifle the English batting allowing for the relative extravagance of Starc to attack.
Of course, four right-arm quicks may lack variation, but each of the four has a different style from the others.
This team is unlikely to be selected but it is worth considering an extra bowler with the batsmen generally under-performing.
My Australian XI for the final Ashes Test at the Oval
1. Usman Khawaja
2. Cameron Bancroft
3. Marnus Labuschagne
4. Steve Smith
5. Travis Head
6. Tim Paine (c, wk)
7. James Pattinson
8. Pat Cummins
9. Mitchell Starc
10. Josh Hazlewood
11. Nathan Lyon/Peter Siddle