The major talking points as England aim to make history in Manchester
England are 4-0 ahead in the five-match series.
England need just one more victory at Old Trafford on Sunday to complete an unprecedented 5-0 one-day international whitewash of Australia.
Here, Press Association Sport identifies the key factors at play for the series finale.
Verge of history
Few with even just a passing interest will be unaware that one more win this weekend will complete a first-ever 5-0 ODI scoreline in England’s favour over Australia. In fact, the whitewash statistic reaches significantly further. Unlike Australia, England have never managed the feat in Test cricket either – Mike Brearley’s 1978/79 tourists came closest to an Ashes clean sweep but had to settle for a mere 5-1 in a six-match series against hosts severely depleted during the era of Kerry Packer’s World Series. England did beat Australia 4-0 in ODIs only six years ago, an Edgbaston washout interrupting them, and have whitewash wins to their credit in shorter series. But if they get the job done in Manchester they will be breaking a duck which dates back across all formats to 1882.
There is no doubt about the strength of Eoin Morgan’s team – in a top three of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales of course but also a long, long batting line-up beneath them which allows everyone to play with such freedom. Australia have been criticised for refusing to even try to fight fire with fire. They, however, have a proper tail – and some inexperienced internationals among their seamers thanks to the injury absences of three frontline pace bowlers. If England do have a weaker suit it is undoubtedly their bowling – but when you have such confidence you can set or chase any score, it does not appear to matter too much.
How bad are Australia?
Following their well-documented soul-searching in the aftermath of the ball-tampering fiasco in South Africa three months ago, for many reasons it is easy to depict this squad as one of the weakest Australia has ever sent to tour England. Australia are missing at least half their full-strength team, thanks to Steve Smith and David Warner’s bans and the injuries of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. They arrived on a PR recovery mission, which under Tim Paine’s genial leadership they have so far achieved. They are highly unlikely to be able to win a match, though.
In a spin
If anyone is feeling ultra-critical – and it is not easy about an England team racing away at the top of the ODI rankings – their lack of a regular wicket-taking seamer is a plausible starting point, despite a four-wicket haul each of late for Yorkshire pair Liam Plunkett and David Willey. If there has been any shortfall, in any case the spin of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid has comfortably made it up. Moeen is bowling better than he has for a long time, and trails only Plunkett in England’s series averages. He and Rashid have taken 19 wickets between them in four matches – and Old Trafford, with its rock-hard, dry square, promises there could be a few more to come too.
Morgan is the orchestrator, in word and deed, of England’s remarkable revival since their shambolic campaign – also under his leadership – at the last World Cup. He backs a hugely-talented batting line-up to trust their skills and power at every opportunity, and crucially continues to demonstrate he is still right up there with the best of them – as in his national-record fastest 50 off 21 balls in the world’s highest total of 481 for six at Trent Bridge on Tuesday.