Nottingham: At the risk of sounding offensive, the 2015 Investec Ashes has been schizophrenic with both teams riding rollercoaster of form through the first three Tests. After England wiped the floor with the Aussies at Cardiff, they were made to relive the nightmares of 2013-14 at Lord's but then romped home in under three days at Birmingham. With the fourth Test at Trent Bridge beginning on Thursday, only the most inveterate of gamblers would venture a guess at the outcome of the contest with both teams swinging wildly from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Michael Clarke. Pic/AFP
Steven Finn recalled in to the England XI at Edgbaston after a gap of two years, shot through the powderpuff Aussie batting lineup, will be expected to share the focus of leading the bowling attack with Stuart Broad, in the absence of Jimmy Anderson who has been sidelined by a side strain. Australians will be hoping that Anderson's side is the gift from the gods that England received in 2005 Glenn McGrath's rolled ankle in Edgbaston that turned the tide in an epic Ashes series.
The visitors would also hope that the added focus and expectation on the Middlesex fast bowler would reduce his effectiveness, opening a door for them to even the series 2-2. Even as Mark Wood, who played in the opening two encounters, is expected to take Anderson's spot, the talk surrounding this Test has mainly centered on the woeful form of the Australian skipper Michael Clarke. In six innings, the 34-year old Clarke hasn't managed to go past 38, averaging under 19, having faced lesser number of deliveries than Mitchells – Starc and Johnson, who are averaging 6 runs more than their captain.
With such horrid numbers stripping him to the bone, Clarke has had nowhere to hide on and off the field and has chosen to keep his faith on his "practice and preparation" hoping that that a good score is just around the corner. That bend in the road he wishes for is unlikely to be in Trent Bridge where he averages under 30 in his last 4 innings. Even if he doesn't strike form with the bat, Clarke, who is yet to be part of a winning Australian side at Trent Bridge, would definitely take the win to keep the series – and his captaincy – alive.
The only selection quandary for Australia is the position of Adam Voges who is clearly out of form – so much so, his average is the worst of the Aussie speciaist batsmen - after his debut century in the Caribbean. He might make way for Shaun Marsh who looked good in the warm up matches but in the season of swinging fortunes, sparkling form of weeks ago mean almost nothing.
England have chosen to stick with their struggling opener Adam Lyth and except for the forced replacement of Anderson, their confident outfit would look to wrap the series up here and head to Oval in London in celebration mode. The pitch bears looks similar to the track at Birmingham last week where Australia were shot out for 136, mostly due to their ineptitude combating swing and seam. Despite its history of assisting seamers, the ground witnessed a mind-numbing India-England draw last year with even tail-enders registering fifties.
In the last 11 Tests here, batting in the 4th innings has been the hardest, and easiest in the first innings, which would dictate that the captain winning the toss would elect to bat first. Seven of those 11 Tests were won by teams batting first, and in the 2015 season, the three non-drawn FC matches also featured teams batting first emerging victorious.
With both teams playing aggressive -almost wanton- cricket, even weather interruptions haven't been able to push the Tests to the fifth day. For what it's worth, the weather is set to be fair with plenty of cloud cover available – as is the norm at Trent Bridge – providing assistance for the pacers to swing the ball. In a Test series where consistency has been the furthest thing for the teams, we should be thankful at least the weather gods are.