HOBART: England had already lost the series but at least rediscovered their stomach for a fight in Sydney and the battered tourists will look to produce a similar gutsy display in the final Ashes Test against Australia on Friday.

Australia retained the urn with comprehensive victories in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne and while England managed to halt the juggernaut in Sydney, it was not without a price.

Wicket-keeper Jos Buttler’s tour was cut short by a finger injury, while all-rounder Ben Stokes (side) and middle order batsman Jonny Bairstow (finger) are doubtful for the pink-ball Test in Hobart after getting bruised in Sydney.

England are ready to play Stokes and stumper-batsman Bairstow purely as batsmen with Sam Billings likely to don the keeping gloves in his Test debut.

Captain Joe Root has insisted on putting “some pride back into the badge” but they are struggling to put together a playing XI that can replicate their steely display in Sydney.

“A guy who has had injuries, I’m sure, will not want to go into the game unless they’re certain they can provide what’s needed,” England fast bowler Mark Wood told reporters on Thursday.

Wood was pleased with the green look of the pitch at the Bellerive Oval, which is hosting its first Ashes Test.

“We talked about our batting so much but actually we got to try and make sure we get 20 wickets to win the game.

“Hopefully, if it stays like that, we can use that assistance and get those 20 wickets.”

While England grapple with plenty of problems, Australia’s problem of plenty heightened after Usman Khawaja smashed back-to-back hundreds in Sydney and the batsman he substituted, Travis Head, recovered from Covid-19.

Australia have accommodated both, sacrificing opener Marcus Harris who will be replaced by Khawaja at the top of the batting order.

Australia have yet to decide their bowling attack with Jhye Richardson, having recovered from shin soreness, vying with Michael Neser for a spot while Scott Boland, who hurt a rib in Sydney, declared fit to play subject to a final assessment in the morning.

“Scotty’s ribs are the only factor,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said on Thursday. “He’ll give that a go. If he’s not in, then Jhye and Michael Neser are both fit.”

Originally scheduled in Perth, it will be the first test in Tasmania since 2016 but local favourite Tim Paine is missing in action having taken an indefinite mental health break last year after relinquishing the captaincy following a “sexting” scandal.

“I think especially the first few days there will hopefully be a bit of seam, a bit of swing,” Cummins said, adding he was unsure as to how the Hobart wicket would play.

“Sometimes when it’s really cold at night it doesn’t do as much, but I don’t know if that will be the case. Every pink ball Test, it feels like there are a lot of unknowns, but probably more so now because it’s a new venue.”

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022

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