Australia head to The Oval hungry to win their first Ashes series in England since 2001 as the peerless Steve Smith seeks to inflict further pain on the hosts.
Tim Paine’s men finally saw off stubborn England at Old Trafford on Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in the five-Test series with just one match to go, meaning they will retain the urn.
To stand any chance of levelling the series, the World Cup winners will have to find a way to solve the riddle of the immovable Smith, who has scored 671 runs in just five innings at an astonishing average of more than 134.
Australia coach Justin Langer, revelling in having the world’s top-ranked batsman and bowler at his disposal, is urging the other batsmen to step up in the match starting on Thursday, even though he admits they lack experience.
“You can’t just give them that experience, they have to earn that and we’re very thankful to have Steve batting,” he said.
Joe Root must inspire his troops to one last effort after a gruelling season in which England became world champions in the 50-over format for the first time.
Their failure in the Ashes has prompted questions over the Yorkshireman’s position, but outgoing coach Trevor Bayliss is adamant the captain retains the support of the England hierarchy.
“He’s not come under question from anyone making any decisions,” Bayliss said.