| ALEC STEWART: Boosting England’s chances
Sydney: England have recalled veteran wicketkeeper Alec Stewart for the final Ashes Test starting on Thursday with the hope of avoiding a 5-0 series whitewash and spoiling Steve Waugh’s record-equalling 156th Test appearance.
Stewart missed the fourth Test in Melbourne with a hand injury but the loss of allrounder Craig White with a torn side muscle convinced the England selectors to recall him at the expense of James Foster.
“We have to make sure we get the balance of the side right,” England coach Duncan Fletcher said on Wednesday.
“Alec’s a proven world-class allrounder. He has batted well for us and kept wicket well for us as well.”
Fletcher said losing White had created a huge “headache” for an England squad that has been ravaged by injuries. White has been the leading England wicket-taker with 14 wickets in the series and his unbeaten 85 in Melbourne added depth to the batting.
A replacement for White hadn’t been announced till this morning with selectors reconsidering the idea of using two spin bowlers in Sydney due to the state of the pitch.
Australia won the first four Tests to retain the Ashes for a record eighth time in succession and give themselves the opportunity of completing their first 5-0 series clean-sweep over England in 82 years.
However, their chances have been hampered by the loss of fast bowler Glenn McGrath and leg-spinner Shane Warne, forcing the selectors to recall paceman Andy Bichel.
“Obviously if you don’t have those two great bowlers it puts a hole in your bowling attack but it’s good in some ways, it gives other players opportunities,” Australia captain Waugh said.
“There’s plenty of guys who’ve been waiting a long time and from my point of view it’s going to be more challenging but probably more enjoyable.
“Now that we’re in place to win 5-0, obviously it’s something we’d like to achieve.
“It hasn’t been done since 1920-21, and those were the timeless Tests, so it would be a big achievement for this team to manage that.
Fletcher said the loss of Warne and McGrath had given England some hope of ending their run of heavy losses against Australia with a rare victory at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Beaten by an innings in two of the first three Tests, England produced their best performance of the series when they lost by five wickets in Melbourne after ripping through the Australian top order on the final day.
“It’s important that we go out and win this Test match. That’s what we’ve tried to do each Test,” Fletcher said.
“We haven’t looked at the statistics, we’ve just gone out and wanted to beat Australia in each Test we played in and that’s the most important thing.”
Stuart MacGill replaced Shane Warne at Melbourne and took a five-wicket second-innings haul. He is expected to revel on his home ground on a wicket that should turn sharply in the later stages.
The new dynamic in the team will be a big challenge in terms of fielding placements and batting and bowling combinations, Waugh said, which should make the Test more difficult for him.
“I have full confidence in the quick bowlers who’re going to take (the vacant) spots. We’ve got Andy Bichel, who is a great competitor and is probably at the peak of his game right now, so there’s no worries about that,” he said.