England aim for Ashes series win
Sydney: England will carry an air of unfinished business into the final Test of the Ashes series starting Monday, despite having already ensured it retains the famous urn.
England cannot lose the series after its emphatic win in the fourth Test at Melbourne, but the Sydney Test offers the enticing prospect of its first Ashes series win since 1987. That achievement, laudable in itself, would take it closer to its longer-term goal of attaining the world`s No 1 ranking in Test cricket.
Australia enters the final Test of an unsuccessful series under an unpopular stand-in captain, but will be eager to square the series, save some face and begin a much-needed rebuilding process.
Michael Clarke will start as Australia Test captain for the first time, replacing Ricky Ponting who has a broken finger.
While teammates have rallied around Clarke and pledged their support, newspaper polls have shown only eight percent of Australians support his promotion to the captaincy.
Ponting is not a universally popular captain, but is admired for his past successes and embodying the qualities of doggedness, grit and fortitude associated with the captaincy since the days of Allan Border and Steve Waugh.
Clarke, 29, is more of a flamboyant character with his bleached hair and very public breakup with his former model fiance.
Teammates have worked this week to alter that image, to paint Clarke as a more mature and driven individual.
"He`s got a very good cricket brain, he thinks about the game very well, he`ll be an aggressive captain," Mike Hussey said.
"He`ll always be looking to take wickets out there, he`ll be looking to make changes to the field, changes to the bowlers, searching for a wicket all the time and he`ll always want the game going forward."
Hussey said Clarke had been an energetic captain when leading the national side in limited-overs games.
"I guess the challenge for him is to be able to maintain that over the five days of a Test match. It`s going to be hard graft but we have 100 per cent confidence in him."
Wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who will be Clarke`s vice-captain, said the public perception of Clarke could quickly change.
"The reaction with the public with all our players changes from week to week," he said. "You`re one good innings away, or sometimes one good cover drive away, from the support being with you.”
"Michael`s a very strong character so things will be okay. He`s got a very good cricket brain. He`ll do Australia proud."
England has been able to enjoy a relatively untroubled preparation for the final Test, its players showing every sign of delight at Australia`s discomfort.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann twisted the knife a little today, saying he was at a loss to understand Australia`s decision to omit its most experienced spinner, Nathan Hauritz, from its Ashes squad. Swann suggested Hauritz`s absence had helped England.
"I honestly don`t understand how Australian selection works," Swann said. "It`s obviously different to how it works in England.
"I don`t know why he (Hauritz) was dropped in the first place and why he`s not been brought back in.”
"I genuinely feel sorry for him because I don`t think he deserved to miss out on this whole series. He bowled well against England two years ago and he was a guy who caused a few of our players some problems."
The uncapped Michael Beer is the only specialist spinner in Australia`s squad, and with the Sydney Cricket Ground usually helpful to spinners, he is a candidate to replace one of the pacemen in the starting eleven.