England needs to salvage some pride
When they walk out at ‘The G' in Melbourne on Dec 26, England's cricketers will know the only thing left to play for is pride. The Ashes are gone, along with two senior players, so the selectors may feel changes are in order.
One enforced change will be a replacement for offspinner Graeme Swann, whose surprise decision to retire from international cricket mid-tour shocked his teammates and England's supporters.
Melbourne has a drop-in pitch and conditions are said to be conducive to swing and seam, but if the selectors are looking for a like-for-like replacement for Swann, leftarm spinner Monty Panesar could resume his stop-start international career. Intriguingly, though, the Durham leggie, Scott Borthwick, has been added to the squad and his superior batting and fielding could see him leapfrog his more experienced colleague.
If England decides to go with an all-seam attack, there will be questions about the fitness of Stuart Broad, whose foot was crushed by a Mitchell Johnson yorker in Perth. The Nottinghamshire paceman sustained no fractures, but with the Ashes well and truly lost, the management may be unwilling to risk one of the team's most valuable players.
Broad's absence, should it happen, could open the door for Boyd Rankin. The gangling Irishman has barely featured in the tour so far, but after a disappointing performance by Chris Tremlett in the first Test, Rankin could win his first Test cap.
Steven Finn is unlikely to be considered for selection. The Middlesex player was described, rather unflatteringly, by bowling coach David Saker as “a work in progress” just a few weeks ago, and while he is undoubtedly fast, the management seems to have lost confidence in him.
That means Rankin may make his debut, alongside James Anderson and Tim Bresnan.
Talk of lost confidence brings Matt Prior into the frame. The Sussex keeper has been a rock for England in recent years and the sight of him scratching around at the crease during a run of low scores has not been a pleasant one for English fans. Prior's run drought seems to have affected his keeping too, so the hot money is on Johnny Bairstow being handed the gloves.
However, if he is dropped, it is unlikely to be the end for Prior, who was voted England's player of the year just seven months ago. Prior's fall from grace has been rapid and painful, but he is too compelling and experienced a player to be abandoned for good.
The only question for Australia's selectors is the venue for the post-match party. Unless a freak accident occurs, the selectors will not want to change a winning outfit. A team widely derided in England just a few months ago has turned things around in spectacular fashion and the Australians are worthy Ashes winners. The team will be now gunning for a 5-0 series victory, and its brand of hard, excellent cricket may well see that ambition become a reality. Paul Tomic can be contacted at email@example.com