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'We're in a great position': Aussies bullish over chance to create history on final day of Ashes

30th July, 2023
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30th July, 2023
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England insist Mark Wood is not carrying an injury into the crucial final day of the Ashes at The Oval, as they hope rain can this time play into their favour while Australia look to seal a first series win in the UK since 2001.

Pat Cummins’ men need 249 more runs for victory with all 10 wickets in hand to take the series 3-1. A draw will also be enough to win the series 2-1, particularly if more rain intervenes and the day is shortened from the 98 overs currently available.

“We’re in a great position at the moment,” Australia’s batting coach Michael Di Venuto said.

“There are a lot of guys who have been on Ashes series over here in the past and haven’t managed to win. Twenty years is a long time. 

“We’re in a great position for some of the boys to get that on their resume.”

David Warner.

David Warner. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Warner and Khawaja are among the men to have felt the most pain in England, having had five unsuccessful Ashes tours between them.

Khawaja has also been dropped twice in the country in 2013 and 2019, while Warner is still without a Test century in England from 37 innings.

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But from an unlikely position, and needing to pull off the highest-ever successful fourth-innings chase at The Oval, the pair have given Australia genuine hope.

Crucially, Warner was able to get through two separate spells against the retiring Stuart Broad, in the last head-to-head battle between the veteran stars.

The left-hander drove Broad for four through the offside in the opening over, and later survived a chest-high beamer from James Anderson when he ran it down to the third-man rope.

After looking somewhat scratchy early, Warner upped the ante after lunch and slog-swept Joe Root for four as one of nine boundaries.

Warner’s form has been heavily scrutinised on this tour, after he made several starts without producing a statement score.

But if the 36-year-old is able to push Australia towards victory at The Oval, it will almost certainly lock him in for his dream farewell retirement at the SCG in January.

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Khawaja had looked even more composed than Warner, with his only moment of concern a short ball from Mark Wood that hit him on the back of the helmet.

With England’s tiring attack appearing otherwise unthreatening on a wicket that has slowed down significantly, Khawaja barely offered a chance at The Oval in the opening two sessions.

He also passed 5000 Test runs just before the rain delay, a remarkable feat given Khawaja’s career looked over two years ago when he was yet to reach the 3000-run milestone.

“Outstanding start from our two openers,” Di Venuto said. 

“They have put some starts together through the series. To get a 100-run start when we are chasing 380 was an outstanding effort.”

If Australia win the match, it will mark the second-highest run-chase in their Test history and the eighth-best of all time.

England meanwhile were downplaying concerns over Wood after the most dangerous bowler of the series in the past two-and-a-half Tests was held back from bowling until Australia were 0-99 in pursuit of 384 on Sunday.

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Mark Wood of England celebrates dismissing Australia captain Pat Cummins during Day One of the LV= Insurance Ashes 3rd Test Match between England and Australia at Headingley on July 06, 2023 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The speedster then sent down three overs, struck Khawaja on the back of the helmet, and left the field at the end of his spell with figures of 0-16.

Play was called off shortly after when rain washed out the afternoon. Wood’s low workload prompted fears he was carrying an injury, after an eight-year career dotted with setbacks and limited to 30 Tests.

But assistant coach Marcus Trescothick insisted that was not the case, and claimed the decision to hold Wood back until the 33rd over over was simply tactical.

“He’s fit to bowl,” Trescothick said. “I think pretty much like everybody, there’s little aches and pains that are going off the back of a big five-Test series. 

“Both teams will be travelling in the same way at the moment. But, yeah, everyone is fit to bowl. It was a tactical decision.”

A week after rain ended England’s chances of regaining the Ashes at Old Trafford, the hosts are now hopeful it can come to their aid at The Oval.

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Scattered showers are forecast again for Monday, and England must take 10 wickets while on the field to level the Ashes 2-2 and deny Australia a series victory.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Usman Khawaja of Australia bats as Jonny Bairstow of England keeps wicket during Day Four of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval on July 30, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Usman Khawaja. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

But the hosts can see an upside to it given they have an ageing attack that has been asked to bowl far more than Australia in this series.

James Anderson turned 41 on Sunday, Stuart Broad is 37 and playing his last Test, Moeen Ali is 36 and battling a groin injury and Chris Woakes is aged 34.

Wood is the youngest bowler at 33, but England have generally tried to keep him to short, sharp spells in this series.

“The bowlers get a bit more time to put feet up (if it rains), get a bit more work with the masseurs and physios,” Trescothick said.  “It’s harder to bat when you have those interruptions, because of the on-off situation of concentration. You can always be a little bit fresher, and ready for each session or each spell when you get back out there.”

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