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Ashes players prepare for 'Test of lives'

England is poised to break Australia's 16-year hold on the Ashes at the Ovals.

india Updated: Sep 08, 2005 12:14 IST

England is poised to break Australia's 16-year hold on the Ashes,going into the fifth and final cricket Test, with a 2-1 series lead starting at The Oval on Thursday and the players are set for battle.

"Unfortunately this sort of series doesn't come along all the time," said Australian leg spinner Shane Warne. "This has probably been the most fascinating and entertaining cricket that's been played in my 15 years of playing."

"If we win, we retain the Ashes. If England win, they regain it. So it's as simple as that. There's no more cricket to be played, this is it, it's five days."

England's position was weakened on Tuesday when inform paceman Simon Jones, who has taken 18 wickets in the series, was ruled out of the match after failing to recover from an ankle injury. As a result, England must change its team for the first time in the series.

England selectors brought seamer James Anderson and allrounder Paul Collingwood into the squad named on Sunday in case Jones was declared unfit, but they are yet to decide which of the pair will replace him in the starting lineup.

While Jones' absence was clearly a setback, England vice-captain Marcus Trescothick said his team had to move on.

"It is obviously very nice to keep the same team together for as long as we can, but that's totally out of our hands now," Trescothick said. "We have to adapt to having a new member in the team."

Australia spearhead Glenn McGrath, meanwhile, showed promise at training after missing his team's loss in the fourth Test with an elbow injury. Provided he is pain-free when he wakes on Wednesday morning, he should play in a significant boost for the tourists. If he does, Australia is likely to stick with a four-pronged attack of McGrath, Warne, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, who made his debut in the fourth Test.

If not, fast bowler Stuart Clark, called into the Australia squad on Monday as cover for McGrath, could make his Test debut and legspinner Stuart MacGill could also start.

Despite talk of the weight of expectation on England to wrest back the Ashes Australia has held since 1989, Warne believes it is the Australians who will face the toughest test of character. "The pressure's on us as far as I'm concerned," Warne said. "We have to play well for five days. If we don't play well, for the first time in nearly 20 years, we've lost the Ashes ... hopefully that'll make us respond and the guys will soak it up and see it as a challenge rather than fear it."

"For me, as far as cricket terms, this is probably the biggest Test match of all of our careers, both England and Australia," said Warne.Ricky Ponting faces the added pressure of being the Australia captain who could lose the Ashes.

"I don't think he's lying awake at night thinking those sorts of things," Warne said. "I think he sees it as a challenge too, and it's a good test for all of us as a group. I'm sure Ricky will stamp his authority on this game this week very early in the piece. "Don't write him off because he'll have a good game ... he's got plenty left in this series and he'll show it this week." England's two victories in the series have been characterized by nail-biting finishes. The home side scraped home by just two runs at Edgbaston, and was given a scare by the Australia bowlers before winning by three wickets at Trent Bridge.

Many expect the deciding match to be just as thrilling. The only threat to that is the weather, with rain forecast for Friday and Saturday.

That would play into England's hands as it needs only a draw to win the series.

But Trescothick insisted England would not abandon the aggressive style of play that has been key to its success, in favor of playing for a draw.

"The reason we're in this position is because we have played in a certain fashion," he said. "It's important to keep doing that, otherwise we will get drawn into a negative sort of style."

First Published: Sep 07, 2005 15:50 IST