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Justin Langer on the Ashes

Justin Langer
By Justin Langer
Former Australia batsman and Somerset captain

England captain Andrew Strauss and Australia captain Ricky Ponting
Even the most experienced campaigners will have their own demons to deal with as they contemplate what could happen over the next five days

On Saturday morning the Somerset cricket team travelled on the team coach to Edgbaston for the Twenty20 finals day.

With plenty riding on the results, the butterflies were fluttering more furiously than I had experienced for quite some time.

In fact, the last time I had a similar feeling of tension was when I travelled with the Australian team during the last Ashes series in Australia.

Then and now, the team coach experience is one I will never forget, even if I would like to. It is as if the coach ride is the final time of comfort before the battle begins and the mixture of apprehension and excitement as you drive up past the crowd and into the ground is almost unbearable in the biggest of matches.

When the England and Australia cricket teams travel to The Oval on Thursday morning you can be sure that the stomachs of every team member will be churning and their hearts thumping a beat or two quicker they would on a normal day.

Breakfast would have been a tougher ordeal than usual and the less experienced minds will be racing like runaway trains. Even the most experienced campaigners will have their own demons to deal with as they contemplate what could happen over the next five days.

The scene is set brilliantly for the mentally toughest to conquer this final Test match. Whether you are Jonathan Trott playing your first Test or Ricky Ponting playing your 136th, every single player in this game will have to be at their best in every department if they want to overcome the enormous pressure which is sure to play a major part in the final outcome of this Test match.

Andrew Strauss said after the last Test that it wasn't time to panic and to the credit of England's selectors they have shown admirable consistency in selecting Trott to replace Ravi Bopara, who they obviously felt needed a rest.

Jonathan Trott
England have gambled on Jonathan Trott for the final Test

In many ways, Trott is a similar player to the batsman he has just replaced. Like Bopara, he likes to feel bat on ball and he is not afraid to play his shots and express himself. He is a strong leg-side player who times the ball sweetly.

What will be most interesting to me is how he handles the extra pressure of the occasion. In county cricket, where he has been so productive, Trott has an unusual tendency to make an initial movement towards his opponent.

He almost walks at the bowler and in county cricket he does this to great effect, with many bowlers getting intimidated by his aggression which opens up many scoring opportunities.

Whether he has the courage to stick with this aggressive and relatively unorthodox approach only time will tell, but I can't help but wonder if he will be able to master this style against the Australians who certainly won't be intimidated and who will be more patient than the county bowlers he has dominated in the past.

This time four years ago, Andrew Flintoff bowled the best spell of fast bowling I have seen in a Test match. With so much hinging on the outcome of the fourth morning, Flintoff bowled like a man possessed as he wrestled the initiative back England's way.

There is no doubt in my mind that the England selectors would have remembered that spell when they re-picked Fred for this final Test of the series and of his career.

Someone has to be a hero over these next five days. Back then it was Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, who will it be here?

My guess is that Ponting is the one to watch for Australia. The Oval is the best batting wicket in the world and I can only imagine that the Australia captain is salivating at the chance to make a huge impact in this game.

Great players who have a burning fire in their belly are often unstoppable and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Ponting grabs this destiny with both hands and shakes this game harder than he has ever done before.

He is a great player because he performs when the pressure is at its most intense and it would be fair to say it just doesn't get any bigger than this deciding Test match. Ponting will still be hurting from the last time he was here so beware the wounded warrior.

Whatever happens over the next five days, this has been another fantastic Ashes series which will only add richness to the history of the contest between the greatest of rivals in England and Australia.

From Taunton

JL



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see also
England struggle in deciding Test
20 Aug 09 |  England
Ponting piles pressure on England
19 Aug 09 |  Australia
Flintoff focused on Ashes decider
18 Aug 09 |  England
England gamble on uncapped Trott
16 Aug 09 |  England
Smith inspires Sussex to Cup win
15 Aug 09 |  Counties
Aussies win to level Ashes series
09 Aug 09 |  England
Justin Langer column
05 Aug 09 |  Cricket
Aussies defy England to earn draw
03 Aug 09 |  England
Justin Langer column
29 Jul 09 |  Cricket
Flintoff inspires England victory
20 Jul 09 |  England
Justin Langer column
13 Jul 09 |  Cricket
Defiant England cling on for draw
12 Jul 09 |  England
Australia in England 2009
20 Sep 09 |  England


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