On July 8th, Mitchell Johnson bowled the opening ball of the 2009 Ashes, an inconsequential length delivery outside off stump.
Six weeks and four tumultuous tests later, we’re no closer to knowing where the Ashes are going than we were that morning in Cardiff. From Monty Panesar saving England at the Swalec stadium, to Flintoff’s triumphant re-emergance at Lord’s, all the way to Clarke and North’s stubborn last-day defiance at Edgbaston and Stuart Clark’s incredible comeback in Yorkshire, it’s been a wildly unpredictable series (if not always a high-quality one).
None of what has gone before is of any relevance though, because the Ashes will be decided over the next five days at the Oval. England will desperately try to shore up a shaky middle order, hoping that the pitch and weather don’t hinder their chances of winning back the Ashes. Australia meanwhile are looking to somehow maintain the quality of play seen at Headingley two weeks ago and scramble over the finish line one way or another.
For players on both sides, the final test of a level Ashes series is the most high-pressure scenario imaginable. A match-winning performance in this match will make up for an entire career of underachievement, while a dropped catch or poor shot will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The biggest five days of cricket for years starts tomorrow.