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Jonathan Agnew column

England can win the series with a draw in Sydney
England are aiming for a first series win in Australia for 24 years

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent in Melbourne

The destiny of the Ashes has been secured until England and Australia meet again in 2013, but there is still a huge amount riding on this final Test.

Michael Clarke, Australia's stand-in captain, is drawing strength and optimism on this being the start of a new year as he aims to draw the series.

Andrew Strauss is talking more in terms of making history as the first England team to win a series here for 24 years as he stresses the point that merely to draw would now be a great disappointment.

Certainly, Clarke has the tougher hand of the two. Not only must he come from behind, but he does so with two debutants in key positions; Usman Khawaja at number three, and Michael Beer, the solitary spinner, who has played only seven first-class games in his life, and never at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Michael Clarke
Clarke has the chance to show Australian supporters that there is a bright future

However, as can often be the case with new managers taking over at struggling football clubs, simply the introduction of a fresh face can be enough to galvanise a beaten team.

England need to show that they can string consistent performances together.

Their recovery following their drubbing at Perth was mighty impressive, but equally as worrying was the manner in which they subsided in that game.

This is a terribly long tour with T20s, and a ridiculous seven one-day internationals to come before embarking on the World Cup.

Much is made of momentum, and certainly tours can assume a life of their own. Who knows, another good performance here could be the spark to igniting a truly historic winter.

One of the most important and decisive differences between the two teams has been the platform provided by the opening batsmen.

Apart from the first innings of the series, when Jonathan Trott walked out to the middle at 0/1, Strauss and Alastair Cook have generally laid a solid foundation, passing 100 twice.

TOM FORDYCE'S BLOG

In contrast, Australia do not have a single century opening stand to their name, and have been 5/1, 0/1, 2/1 and 15/1.

This has exposed Ricky Ponting much earlier than he would like, and his poor form has also brought Clarke to the crease all too soon.

Their lack of runs is one of the main reasons for Australia's failure in this series - and let's not forget that Clarke carries that poor form with him into his first Test as captain.

However, this is a big opportunity for him. Far from universally popular, he has the chance to show Australian supporters that there is a bright future.

He spoke repeatedly about being merely a short-term replacement and even bizarrely suggested that he might retire from Test cricket before Ponting does.

That is merely to satisfy the Cricket Australia PR machine.

There is a widely held view that for a team to head off into a brave new direction, new leadership is essential and if Clarke and Australia perform well enough to salvage some pride and reputation here, Ponting could well find himself eased out of his job in Test cricket, at least.

Listen to commentary highlights from the final day of the fourth Test (UK users only)

TMS podcast: Agnew and Boycott's review (available worldwide)



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see also
England on top in rain-hit Sydney
03 Jan 11 |  England
Australia select Khawaja and Beer
02 Jan 11 |  England
Swann questions Aussie selection
01 Jan 11 |  England
Moores exit was key - Pietersen
31 Dec 10 |  Cricket
Haddin defends Clarke as skipper
31 Dec 10 |  Australia
England seal win to retain Ashes
29 Dec 10 |  England
Strauss demands Ashes series win
29 Dec 10 |  England
England in Australia 2010-11
08 Oct 09 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket


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