In a series thus far defined by the unpredictable, it’s only fitting that—despite suffering a humiliating loss in Edgbaston—Australia enter the fourth Test as favorites. To someone following the series from afar, knowing England are up two matches to one—and on home soil to boot—such odds may seem baffling. Yet, for those who have been following ball by ball, such an off-kilter prediction seems based in the purest of logic. The sole predictable trait of this Ashes series has been its sheer erraticism: A crushing defeat or stunning victory in one match has offered little to no insight into the following Test’s outcome. If Nietzsche killed god, than these Ashes have laid the myth of sporting momentum in its grave. In short, every possible outcome is in play at Trent Bridge—which is exactly why this has been such a magnificent series.
Of course, it’s only natural that such a capricious series would result in the emergence of an unlikely hero. Enter Steven Finn—the forgotten Middlesex quick. Much has already been written on Finn’s eight-wicket, master-class performance in Edgbaston after a two-year hiatus from the England Test squad. However, with Jimmy Anderson ruled out of the fourth Test and Mark Wood less than 100 percent fit, England’s fortunes will again fall on the shoulders of Finn. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that the Trent Bridge wicket is expected to emulate the seaming conditions of Edgbaston—a pitch that played right into the hands of Finn.
For the Australians, despite a mammoth victory at Lord’s and the continued brilliance of Steve Smith, many who were expected to play critical roles have thus far underperformed—perhaps none more glaringly than Michael Clarke. The Australian captain has been woeful, averaging just 18.8 runs over his six Ashes innings. In fact, Clarke’s performance has been so dire that some are predicting the demise of his Test career if Australia are unable to rally to victory. Clichés of “captain’s innings” aside, Australia need to Clarke to escape the shackles imposed by his run of poor performances. A 187-run stand akin to Clarke’s last Test century on English soil isn’t required—but surely such a performance wouldn’t hurt.
By the start of the coming week, we could be expressing amazement at England’s ability to overcome doubters and naysays from every corner of the cricketing globe. Or, with an Australian victory or a draw, we could be looking forward to a thrilling conclusion in the shadow of the gasworks at The Oval. Be it in West Bridgford or London, the series’ denouement approaches. Enjoy the show while it lasts.