This Test match has a lot more relevance for both players and the team than simply concluding another overseas tour where England have failed in foreign conditions – again.
The SCG is not only one of the most iconic Test match venues in the world but it offers players a chance to restore some pride to what has been a very tough tour for England.
Play well, score runs and take wickets and that plane flight back to a cold grey England won’t seem so daunting or depressing. Lose badly again and suddenly you can find yourself sitting at home waiting for the next tour to start, wondering whether you will be given another crack. It will play on your mind.
Obviously no-one ever sets out to lose “well” or even lose at all but the opportunity of a 3-1 series defeat sounds much better than the 5-0 whitewash that looked a probability at one stage this winter.
A lot has been written about England’s positive performance at the MCG and while I agree it was great to see Alastair Cook “go big” and Stuart Broad play well, I am still not sure about the balance of power emerging from Melbourne.
Yes, England stopped the rot and prevented a whitewash but having got into a strong position their bowlers couldn’t dislodge David Warner and Steve Smith.
That was always going to be the challenge this series and the tactic to “bowl dry” hasn’t worked.
Good players don’t just get out. They get in and keep going and unless the quality of the bowling is very high, such players will feast on the opportunity to “go big”. Only Cook has done this (and only once so far) for England among their top four batsmen.
Sydney is a big test for James Vince – he needs 100 or at least two scores above 50 otherwise he represents a player who has simply flattered to deceive.
There is no doubting his eye-catching extra cover drives, which reveal some elegance to his play but does he possess enough substance in his game to become a Test match No 3?
Mark Stoneman needs runs too. Troubled by the short ball on occasions, he has had some flat wickets to bat on and not taken his opportunity yet. But like others he has shown good intent and made some solid starts. The SCG offers him the chance to set himself up for the English summer without the media glare being on him.
If Vince doesn’t deliver then it is time to go Root (at No 3), Malan, Bairstow and Stokes (legal proceedings allowing) in the middle order. Moeen Ali at No 7 should be the second spinner, with Woakes at No 8, then Broad and Anderson plus Mason Crane as the “luxury” bowler, learning his trade or giving Jack Leach a go based on his back-to-back seasons of achievement for Somerset.
On the subject of spin, the current state of play reveals the error of selecting Liam Dawson last summer. He is not good enough as a front-line spinner but was picked for his good attitude and useful runs.
England like to select people who fit the mould in terms of contributing in an all-round sense but to win Test matches and series, it requires individuals to be excellent at their primary skill.
If Crane doesn’t play, he will have been a ridiculous pick for the tour. He will have been a passenger. The bizarre thing about Crane too is his failure to be selected regularly by Hampshire.
Whatever side is selected this week is a big opportunity for the extra bowler. The question is whether Crane and one of Tom Curran or Craig Overton can either enhance their international prospects or “do a Scott Borthwick/Simon Kerrigan/Boyd Rankin” and disappear without trace.
It’s a pity Toby Roland-Jones has been missing. He could have added some bite mixed with good control, much like Angus Fraser used to back in the day for Graham Gooch and Mike Atherton’s England teams.
One thing is for sure, make a big contribution and win this Test and those grey days back in the UK will not seem so quite so forbidding.
***Nick Compton is Ladbrokes’ Ashes brand ambassador. Australia are currently 8/13 favourites to win the fifth Test with England 7/2 outsiders and the draw also at 7/2.***