|Player:||A Flintoff, SK Warne, GD McGrath|
|Event:||England in Australia 2006/07|
DateLine: 1st January 2007
The moment dreaded by Australians has arrived as legends Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne ready for their last match, Tuesday's final Ashes Test against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
McGrath and Warne, with 1,263 Test wickets between them and the scourge of English batsmen for a good dozen years, have been match-winners in a golden era of Australian cricket. They will play their part again in the fifth Ashes Test match as Australia, already 4-0 up in the series, chase a rare whitewash. The pair is expected to receive an emotional farewell as Australian cricket shows its gratitude to the two modern-day bowling titans, who have announced their retirement.
The Ashes series ended as a contest in the third Perth Test, but Ricky Ponting's team has the opportunity to inflict the ignominy of a 5-0 series clean sweep, last achieved by Warwick Armstrong's 1920-21 Australians at home. The Australians, driven by the loss of the urn in England in 2005 after 16 years' ownership, have put an ever-widening gap between them and Andrew Flintoff's demoralized tourists. England sunk to a series nadir with an innings and 99-run capitulation inside three days after winning the toss in last week's fourth Melbourne Test. It prompted Flintoff to say with an air of desperation: "We don't want to leave this country having been turned over 5-0. We want to win a game of cricket."
If there is a glimmer for England it is Australia's susceptibility in "dead-rubber" Tests. South Africa won the third Durban Test in March 2002 after losing the first two of the series and England won in Sydney on the last Ashes tour here in January 2003 after going down in the first four Tests. The West Indies scored a world record 418 for seven in the last innings to beat Australia in the fourth Antigua Test in May 2003 and India won the dead rubber in Mumbai in November 2004. But the McGrath-Warne farewell and the quest for an 86-year Ashes whitewash will focus Australian concentration, vows Ponting, who senses "an opportunity to create something very special for this team in Sydney."
"We've done everything in our power to make that be the way. England wouldn't be happy with their (Melbourne) performance," he said. "When we are playing as well as we are and we're on a bit of a run then I'm sure all those little doubts turn into big doubts. We've seen that through this game."
Australia shunned the opportunity to call up spin specialist Stuart MacGill to bowl in "leggie" tandem with Warne, preferring to keep the balance of the team that flattened England in Melbourne. But the tourists, with few options to strengthen their lineup, may turn to Middlesex off-spinner Jamie Dalrymple to team up with Monty Panesar on the spin-friendly Sydney pitch.
Flintoff has spoken of putting on a belated show for the army of English supporters who have trekked out to Australia in the vain hope of seeing their boys retain the Ashes after last year's euphoric series. But four heavy defeats, both on the field and psychologically, have Flintoff's tourists on the verge of leaving Australia with one of the worst touring records and recriminations centering on coach Duncan Fletcher and Flintoff, who also act as the two tour selectors. Australia have won their last 11 Tests and a fall in their intensity looks England's only way of salvaging something out of the wreckage.
The teams: Australia - Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting (captain), Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath and Mitchell Johnson (12th man to be named)
England (from) - Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff (captain), Sajid Mahmood, Chris Read, Jamie Dalrymple, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Monty Panesar.
Umpires - Billy Bowden (NZ) and Aleem Dar (PAK). Match referee - Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)