Stuart Broad was content to give Steve Smith “the benefit of the doubt” after his run-out reprieve left England and Australia neck and neck after day two of the fifth Ashes Test.

Substitute fielder George Ealham, the 21-year-old son of former England all-rounder Mark, came close to swinging things decisively in the home side’s favour when he produced a lightning fast gather and throw to leave Smith scrambling.

Memories of former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting having his stumps thrown down by Gary Pratt 18 years ago came flooding back, but Smith was spared that fate as replays cast doubt over the role of wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.

He appeared to nudge a bail loose with his arm before gathering the ball and completing the run out, leading TV umpire Nitin Menon to spare Smith on 44. Australia added exactly 100 runs for three wickets after the incident, finishing 295 all out and 12 runs in front.

The decision did not go down well with the majority of the sold-out Kia Oval crowd, but Broad admitted his own grasp of the technicalities was imperfect and accepted the verdict.

“I don’t know the rules to be honest. I think there was enough grey area to give that not out,” he said.

“What are the rules? Was it the right decision? It looked like benefit of the doubt sort of stuff. The first angle I saw I thought ‘out’ and then with the side angle it looked like the bails probably dislodged.”

Broad’s bowling partner James Anderson also sought to take any heat out of the umpires’ call, telling BBC Sport: “It felt like one of those where Australia think it’s not out and we thought it was out.

“I’ve not had a proper look on the TV, but it felt like a very close decision. We have to trust that the third umpire knows what he’s doing and got the decision right.”

Smith, who top-scored with 71, accepted his near miss but doffed his cap in Ealham’s direction after admitting the Surrey second teamer had caught him unawares with his rapid response.

“It was pretty tight, but when I looked the second time it looked like Jonny might have knocked the bail before the ball came in,” he said.

“It looked a close one but it got given not out, didn’t it? He was quick! I know now he’s very quick.

“The next one we hit out there we kind of pushed and he was haring round the boundary, coming in at pace. Had I known that previously, I might have just stayed there for the single.”

England will begin their second innings on Saturday morning, with barely anything to separate the sides as an enthralling series enters its final chapter.

There have been two distinct styles on show, with England scoring at a rampant rate 5.17 across less than 55 overs and Australia taking almost twice as long to get their runs at 2.85.

The tourists have already retained the urn with a 2-1 lead, but both teams have a viable route to victory as they look to finish the series on a high.

“It’s going to be another cracker, I think. Both teams played pretty different on it but pretty successfully,” Broad said.

“At one stage when Smith was nearly run out we thought we could get a pretty decent lead, but the Aussies battled pretty hard there and I think it’s just set up to be a cracking game again. That is the way the Aussies play, they try to see off the new ball, grind you down, and see off a huge number of overs.”

Smith added: “It’s ebbed and flowed the whole way…a few of us got good starts but couldn’t go and get a big score.

“We’re 12 runs in front so it’s pretty much a one-innings game from here. One positive out of the game so far is we have put more overs into their bowlers than the 50-odd ours bowled.”

England’s hopes of squaring the Ashes might have turned on the tiniest of margins at the Kia Oval as Australia’s Steve Smith came desperately close to being run out by substitute fielder George Ealham in a pivotal moment in the fifth Test.

Australia were 295 all out off the final ball of the second day, 12 runs ahead, as Smith rode his luck to top-score with 71 following a scare just after tea.

The 21-year-old son of former England all-rounder Mark Ealham looked to have replicated Ricky Ponting’s famous 2005 dismissal by the unknown Gary Pratt, combining with wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to leave Smith diving for the line.

Smith initially looked bang to rights but, instead of departing for 44 and leaving his side 195 for eight, he was reprieved by TV umpire Nitin Menon.

Replays suggested Bairstow had begun to nudge one of the bails loose with his arm before collecting the ball cleanly and there was some debate over whether either bail was fully dislodged before Smith’s bat slid home.

What mattered most was the ‘not out’ decision that appeared on the big screen and the 100 runs which followed.

That was easily Australia’s most productive period of a day that had seen them embark on pedestrian go-slow in the morning session and a jittery collapse in the afternoon.

Having watched England blaze 283 in 54.5 overs, Australia crept just above that mark in 103.1, Ben Stokes taking an excellent two-stage boundary catch to end the innings in the closing moments.

England were one bowler down due to Moeen Ali’s groin strain, but Australia came out with nothing but survival on their mind, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne scoring just 13 runs off the bat in a first hour that tested English patience in the field and in stands.

Labuschagne was completely bereft of intent, scratching out nine off 82 deliveries before Mark Wood finally drew the outside edge England had spent almost 90 minutes probing for.

It looked a regulation catch for Bairstow but he froze on the spot, leaving Joe Root to hurl himself into action at first slip and claim a brilliant one-handed grab. That was the height of the pre-lunch entertainment, with the scoreboard trudging to 115 for two by the break.

Australia had put miles in the English legs and taken time out of a game their rivals need to win, but they had barely moved the dial in real terms.

The limitations of that approach were exposed in the afternoon, with England taking five for 71 to take control of proceedings. Stuart Broad played the role of ringleader, dismissing Khawaja and Travis Head in successive overs to inject some electricity into a game that had gone to sleep.

Khawaja had spent more than four-and-a-half hours in defiance when Broad speared one in from round the wicket and trapped the left-hander in front of leg. Five balls later the seamer was celebrating again, challenging Head outside off stump and getting the nick.

England continued burrowing through the middle order as James Anderson belatedly opened his account for the match in the 16th over, bowling Mitch Marsh off a hefty inside edge and cracking a long overdue smile in the process.

The mistakes kept coming, Alex Carey chipping Root’s tempter to short cover and Mitchell Starc flapping Wood straight up in the air.

Smith was shaping up to be the key figure as he reached tea on 40, but he came desperately close to a self-inflicted dismissal.

Turning back for a second as Ealham sprinted in from the deep and flung a flat throw to the keeper, he looked to be struggling as he dived for his ground.

Replays initially seemed to seal his fate, with his bat short of the crease line as the stumps were broken. He was halfway to the pavilion when he sensed something might be amiss, with the slow-motion footage suggesting Bairstow had nudged one bail loose before gathering the ball in and parting the stumps.

The images were scrutinised for a couple of minutes, analysing when and where the bails left their grooves, before Menon ruled in Smith’s favour. His decision was met with frustration among the home supporters and a healthy dose of confusion elsewhere, as the assembled pundits tried in vain to bring some clarity.

Smith added another 44 before skying Chris Woakes over his shoulder to Bairstow, who did his work well this time.

England should still have taken a lead into day three but struggled to mop up the tail. Pat Cummins made an assured 36 and Todd Murphy landed three sixes on his way to 34.

Woakes had the skipper lbw late on and Root finished things off when Stokes affected a smart catch-and-release take on the boundary to dismiss Murphy.

England will bat again on day three, with barely an inch to separate the sides.

England substitute fielder George Ealham came agonisingly close to his own Gary Pratt moment during the evening session on day two of the fifth Ashes Test at the Kia Oval.

Ealham, the son of former England international Mark, found himself in the thick of the action from the third ball of the 78th over of Australia’s innings.

Steve Smith looked to complete a risky two against the bowling of Chris Woakes, but Ealham sprinted in from the rope and hurled in a hard, flat throw that forced the Aussie batter to dive to make his ground.

It instantly provoked memories of former Durham staffer Pratt, who memorably ran out Ricky Ponting during the fourth Test of the 2005 Ashes.

Ealham was denied a similar place in Ashes history after TV umpire Nitin Menon eventually ruled Smith remained not out owing to the uncertainty over what was an extremely marginal call.

Australia were on 193 for seven when Smith dropped the ball towards the midwicket region and set off for two runs with captain Pat Cummins.

Smith stumbled briefly on his way to completing the second run and saw England substitute fielder Ealham throw in brilliantly with Jonny Bairstow dislodging the bails.

Before a decision had been made Smith started his walk back to the pavilion having seen that he was short of his ground, but replays showed that Bairstow appeared to nudge one of the bails out of its groove a fraction of a second before taking the ball from Ealham’s throw.

Further replays also demonstrated enough uncertainty over whether both ends of the bail had left their grooves before Smith made his ground with a dive.

It sparked debate and confusion amongst broadcasters but the cold reality was Smith remained at the crease.

The Marylebone Cricket Club, the lawmakers of the game, later published a statement about the decision and referenced Law 29.1.

“The wicket is broken when at least one bail is completely removed from the top of the stumps, or one or more stumps is removed from the ground,” the MCC tweeted.

“Tom Smith’s Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, MCC’s Official Interpretation of the Laws of Cricket, adds: ‘For the purposes of dismissal – a bail has been removed at the moment that both ends of it leave their grooves’.”

Smith was able to add a further 27 runs before he was eventually out for 71 after he top-edged Woakes high into the air with Bairstow taking an impressive catch on the run.

Stuart Broad kickstarted England’s resurgence as a Australia backed themselves into a corner on day two of the final Ashes Test.

The tourists produced a thoroughly passive batting performance, attempting to grind their opponents down but coming unstuck as they coughed up five wickets in the afternoon session.

At tea they had lurched to 186 for seven, a colourless innings that gave England the upper hand and struck a stark contrast to the hosts’ thrill-a-minute 283 on the first day.

At the break, the Baggy Greens were 97 behind with Steve Smith unbeaten on 40 and carrying the bulk of his side’s hopes.

While England burned out in less than 55 overs and scored at a rampant rate of 5.17, Australia slammed the brakes on as they eked out their runs at 2.48.

With the scoreboard moving at glacial pace in the morning, Australia scoring 54 in two hours of stoic defence, Broad grabbed the initiative after lunch as he removed Usman Khawaja and Travis Head in successive overs.

England kept charging in and chipped away at a side who have retained the urn but lost their mojo. James Anderson claimed his first breakthrough of the match when Mitch Marsh dragged down his stumps, an out-of-sorts Alex Carey lobbed Joe Root to short cover and Mark Wood bounced out Mitchell Starc.

Root, who was only pressed into bowling action due to first-choice spinner Moeen Ali’s groin injury, had earlier got England on the board with a super reaction catch at first slip.

After almost 90 minutes of blocking in difficult batting conditions the ultra-defensive Marnus Labuschagne, who scraped together nine runs off 82 deliveries, eventually nicked Wood for what should have been a regulation caught behind.

But Jonny Bairstow failed to make a move a move and the ball would have raced away for four had Root not flung himself into action, diving to his left to pull off a remarkable one-handed grab.

Australia still appeared to be in control at the interval, going in at 115 for two as Khawaja produced a watchful opener’s knock, but the limited ambition came home to roost in the middle session.

They added just 71 between lunch and tea as they lost control of the narrative. Broad was the primary reason for the change in tone.

He found a way through Khawaja’s well-rehearsed defences after nearly five hours of occupation, angling in from round the wicket and hitting him in front of leg stump for 47.

He then followed by making short work of the dangerous Travis Head, the man most likely to energise a quiet day.

Head got off the mark with a boundary but that was the start and the end of his scoring, as he felt for contact in the channel and nicked through to Bairstow.

Broad had two in six balls, the crowd’s pulses had raised and Australia had seen their hard work come undone.

Australia slammed on the brakes on the second morning of the final Ashes Test, shutting England’s bowlers out before a stunning catch from Joe Root lifted spirits at the Kia Oval.

The home side were bowled out for a thrill-a-minute 283 on day one, scoring at a frantic pace but burning out in less than 55 overs, with the tourists grinding their way to 115 for two in reply.

Australia, 2-1 up and with the urn already retained, were more than happy to block their way through the first session and shored their position up with some low-risk cricket which takes them one step closer to a first series win on these shores since 2001.

Resuming on 61 for one, they scraped together just 54 runs in 26 overs. Usman Khawaja was still in place at lunch, moving to 47 not out off 152 deliveries, but Marnus Labuschagne was dismissed for nine after chewing through 82 balls.

England had been probing away without success until the pace of Mark Wood finally drew a mistake, Labuschagne edging behind for what should have been a regulation take for wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.

But he remained static, leaving Root to fling himself into action at first slip and snap up a brilliant one-handed take to his left.

Labuschagne appeared to be unhappy at the fading light levels as he skulked towards the pavilion, but Root’s reactions suggested the thick, grey clouds that lingered over the ground were not too bad.

The arrival of Steve Smith, who reached 13 not out at lunch, picked up Australia’s rate, as he drove James Anderson for consecutive fours to ease past Labuschagne’s score in a fraction of the time.

Anderson endured another demoralising session, wheeling away through a couple of tidy but joyless spells in handy conditions.

The seamer, who turns 41 on Sunday, has picked up just four wickets in four matches this summer and cannot seem to find the edge of the bat despite building up a steady rhythm.

Stuart Broad was the pick of the attack in a first hour that saw just 13 runs off the bat as well as eight byes.

He had Labuschagne playing and missing, went up for an lbw appeal and saw a flick round the corner land a yard in front of leg gully, but ultimately found himself frustrated by the policy of calculated defence.

Khawaja played his role with aplomb, relentlessly eating up time at the crease in bowler-friendly conditions and ending the morning’s play with a rare flourish as he pinged Wood off his pads to the square-leg boundary.

They may be three Caribbean Islands with different cultures and different styles of play. But what Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados all have in common, is their unflinching desire to leave an indelible mark at the Vitality Netball World Cup.

All three teams will bow into action in Cape Town, South Africa on Friday with Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls up against Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago’s Calypso Girls squaring off against reigning champions New Zealand, while Barbados Gems, are up against England’s Roses.

The number 10-ranked Calypso Girls will be the first in action at 3:00am Jamaica time, with number two-ranked Silver Ferns expected to prove a handful for the Joel “Twiggy” Young-Strong-coached team.

And while Trinidad and Tobago boast the legacy of being the only other team to win the World Cup title, along with New Zealand and Australia in the tournament’s long history, captain Shaquanda Green-Noel is realistic about their expectations.

“I think we are very honest and realistic with what may be the end result of the game, so even though we are extremely competitive, we are just going in thinking about the small wins in terms of reducing the margin.

“The mood in the camp is a bit of excitement and nervousness, the senior players are more the ones excited to get on the court because the Netball World Cup is one of the biggest platforms to showcase our talent. The young players are a tad bit nervous, but also excited to make their Netball World Cup debut,” Green-Noel told

“The girls are also very prepared for what is to come, New Zealand are defending champions and we would have done research on what they have to offer and how they play, and I think it (this game) is a great way for us to test out the skills we worked on coming into the World Cup. The last time we played New Zealand, I don’t think we had a very good game, so this is a chance to improve,” she added.

Uganda and Singapore are the other two teams the Calypso Girls will face in Pool D.

Jamaica, the highest ranked Caribbean team at number four, are out to end their 16-year medal drought at the Netball World Cup, dating back to 2007, when the last won one of their three bronze medals. 

They will enter their opening Pool C contest against 15th-ranked Sri Lanka as overwhelming favourites, especially on the back of their historic silver medal-winning performance at the Commonwealth Games last year.

Still, Sunshine Girls Head coach Connie Francis is not taking their opponents lightly, as she is well aware that it will require proper execution from her team to get the job done.

Match time is 11:00 am Jamaica time.

“The ladies are mentally and physically prepared and they want to do something special at this tournament which is to win a medal. But we don’t know much about the Sri Lankans and so we don’t intend to take them lightly,” said Francis.

Though the off-court security issue in which captain Jhaniele Fowler was robbed, is cause for concern, Francis pointed out that the team remains focused on the task at hand.

“Yes, it is bad and very disappointing that has happened on a stage like this, but the ladies remain focused on what they came here to do, which is to execute well and win a medal and that starts with tomorrow’s game,” she noted.

The Sunshine Girls will also have Wales and the host nation to contend with in Pool C.

Meanwhile, number 13-ranked Barbados Gems, have drawn a tough Pool B in which they have England, Malawi and Scotland to deal with.

They open against the number three-ranked Roses at 1:00pm Jamaica time.

While getting by the Roses will take some doing, the Gems are by no means expected to play dead, especially with the addition of sisters Kadeen and Sasha Corbin, who both switched allegiance from England to represent Barbados.

Number one ranked Australia, Zimbabwe, Fiji and Tonga will contest Pool A.

Harry Brook insisted England were happy with their work after being bowled out for 283 on day one of the concluding Ashes Test.

The hosts were dismissed in less than 55 overs after being sent in at the Kia Oval, in a game they need to win to salvage a drawn series, but tackled bowler-friendly conditions with their usual aggression to score at more than five-an-over.

They lost wickets in clusters, with a sequence of three for 11 hampering their progress in the morning session and another mini-collapse of four 28 clearing out their middle-order engine room.

Australia chose a different method, grinding their way to 61 for one in 25 overs to take the upper hand by stumps, but Brook was content with how things finished.

He top-scored with 85, striking 11 fours and two audacious sixes along the way, and felt England had marginally over-achieved given the gloomy skies and green-tinged surface.

“We feel pretty happy. We’ve had decent day in the end,” he said.

“We were all talking about 250 being a decent score at lunch time and got 33 more than that. We were happy with the way we scored our runs. We ended up scoring at a decent rate but they bowled well.

“When you put a team in you want to bowl them out, especially in a day, but we definitely played well and got up to a respectable total.”

That may not have been the case had it not been for Brook’s headline innings, his fourth and highest half-century of the series, but he almost departed for just five.

A booming drive off Pat Cummins made it only as far as Alex Carey’s glove, but the chance popped out and allowed England’s number five to wreak some havoc before eventually falling to Mitchell Starc.

“I got that little bit of luck early on, which helped, but I was just trying to be positive like I always am,” he said.

“I try to put the pressure back on them and try to take them off their lengths. I know it looks madness when we are out there and scoring quick, but we have always had little moments where we have had to rein it in and soak up pressure. I do look to score. If I’m just trying to survive I am pretty useless!”

England’s prospects of pushing for a series-levelling victory were dented by an injury to lead spinner Moeen Ali, who injured his thigh during a century stand with Brook and did not take the field.

With seamers dominating the evening session he was not missed immediately, but that could change as things progress.

“I don’t think he’s too good at the minute, but I’m not a physio so I can’t tell you too much about his injury,” said Brook, who encouraged Moeen to hit out after he received treatment.

“He is one of the best power hitters in the world and we’ve seen that in white-ball cricket. There’s probably not any better man out there to go and smack it really. It’s a shame he didn’t last a bit longer but the way he went about it after getting injured was perfect I thought.

“Hopefully he can come out there and bowl some overs for us tomorrow or get some runs in the next innings.”

England and Australia produced another culture clash on the opening day of the final Ashes Test, with Harry Brook keeping the hosts afloat at the Kia Oval.

England’s ‘Bazball’ brigade lived fast and died young after being sent in to bat, bowled out for 283 inside 55 overs as Brook’s dashing 85 did much of the work.

There were 31 boundaries and five sixes as the hosts flashed hard in difficult conditions and scored their runs at a rollicking rate of 5.17 while losing wickets in costly clusters.

Australia were unusually ragged in the field, dropping five chances including Brook on just five, but showed plenty of care and attention as they reached 61 for one in response.

In place of England’s devil-may-care approach they set their sights on survival, happily sedate as they idled along at 2.44. Yet, if the tourists can go deep, win the Test and become the first Australian side to win outright on English soil since 2001, the entertainment factor will finish as a footnote next to a 3-1 away win.

Chris Woakes claimed England’s only wicket, David Warner doing the hard work then slashing to second slip for 24, but the home attack was a touch lethargic. James Anderson once again searched in vain for inspiration, tidy but unthreatening in what is fast becoming a worrying pattern as he approaches his 41st birthday.

England’s prospects were not helped by the absence of spinner Moeen Ali, who injured his thigh while batting and did not take the field.

The odds were stacked against England’s openers after Pat Cummins won his first toss of the series and sent them out under thick clouds.

Australia granted both men a life in the slips, Warner putting down Ben Duckett and Steve Smith parrying Crawley one-handed, but they asserted themselves well to add 62 in the first 12 overs.

Duckett made a run-a-ball 41, peaking when he skipped down the track and clubbed Josh Hazlewood for a straight four.

His departure was slightly unlucky, strangled down leg by Mitch Marsh off the glove, but Crawley was beaten in more authentic fashion as Cummins squared him up and took the shoulder of the bat.

Australia were suddenly up for the fight, rounding up their number one target when Joe Root dragged Hazlewood on for five.

At 73 for three, things had taken a sharp downturn for England when Brook arrived in the middle. He could easily have been the next domino to fall, edging a full delivery from Cummins through to Alex Carey.

It was a low chance, just in front of first slip, but once it hit the glove it should have stayed there. Instead, it popped out and invited Brook to enjoy his reprieve.

Two more false shots skipped through the cordon for four before he warmed to the task, pounding Marsh through the covers then denting his pride with a dismissive swat for six over midwicket.

With lunch approaching he went after Starc, threading back-to-back boundaries then stepping inside the line of a bouncer and hooking it over fine-leg for another maximum. His efforts dragged England to 131 for three at lunch, back ahead of the game after a rollercoaster session.

Moeen had been a silent partner at number three, but sparked into life when he pulled up completing a single. After eking 11 from his first 37 deliveries, he raced through the gears after treatment from the physio to clatter 23 off his next nine.

The partnership was up to 111 when Moeen swiped at Todd Murphy’s third ball, missing completely and losing his middle stump.

Brook was still looking good, reaching his fourth half-century of the series in just 44 balls and driving Cummins for back-to-back boundaries, but Australia were in the process of reclaiming the initiative.

Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow came and went without leaving a mark. Cummins pegged back his fellow captain’s off stump up with one that swung in and straightened off the pitch, while Bairstow got into a poor position as he dragged Hazlewood on.

The responsibility lay firmly on the shoulders of England’s youngest player now, but Brook was suckered in by a fuller, wider offering from Starc. Brook threw everything at it but only succeeded in spraying a thick edge to Smith.

The heavy lifting looked to be done at seven down, but Woakes (36) and Mark Wood (28) had other ideas. Between them the pair added 64 in 65 balls, with 42 of those coming in boundaries as England continued hitting the fast forward button.

Chances continued to come and Starc finished with four for 82 when Woakes holed out to end the innings, partial payback for a steepling six that had sailed over his head a few moments earlier.

Conditions were still bowler-friendly during England’s 25 overs in the field, but Australia slammed the brakes on a breakneck day of action. Usman Khawaja made 26no from 75 balls and Marnus Labuschagne blocked for stumps, leaving Warner’s error of judgement as a solitary blemish on the card.

England midfielder Keira Walsh insists the prospect of completing a personal trophy treble with a World Cup win has scarcely crossed her mind.

Walsh followed up England’s Euro 2022 triumph and player-of-the-match honours in that final with a move to Barcelona, with whom she achieved Champions League glory alongside fellow Lioness Lucy Bronze in June.

A first World Cup at the August 20 Sydney final would cap off a phenomenal 13-month run for Rochdale native Walsh, who joined the Spanish side for what was believed to be a world record fee in September.

She said: “It’s not something I’ve thought about but it would be pretty exciting.

“I think when I first moved to Barcelona I did have to take a deep breath. When you go into that environment and you look at their midfield it is a little bit daunting, I think is fair to say.

“They were all super helpful with it though and I’m not really on social media to see those things. I just take the game day-to-day and enjoy playing. I don’t really focus too much on what’s going on on the outside.

“But when it’s all said and done, winning the Euros and the Champions League in the space of a year, you do need to take a breath and take a step back – not to evaluate it but let it all sink in. It’s an exciting thing and then going to a World Cup as well.”

Both England and their Friday opponents Denmark picked up wins in their opening contests, so the second encounter for each might prove vital in deciding the Group D winner. 

The Lionesses could even seal a trip to the knockout rounds tomorrow if they defeat Denmark and China draw with Haiti in the late kick-off.

Walsh, nominated for FIFA’s best women’s player of the year in 2022, agreed it seems her ascension to the elite ranks of her position has come with a corresponding response of teams trying to shut her down.

She said: “Yeah, but I think I was used to it at Man City, it happened quite a lot in the Women’s Super League.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s just me, I think a lot of teams are trying to stop holding midfielders in general because that’s where football is going now.

“I think the game has changed as a whole, but I’ve got more influence from the Spanish in terms of how they’ve always played, and the Pep [Guardiola] influence has always helped me in that respect. In general football I think more people do try and play through the central midfielder.

“Yeah of course [it’s a challenge I want], I think first-half it’s usually a little more difficult, I think in the second half it tends to open up a bit more anyway, but for me, I want to be playing in those tighter situations and really testing myself. I enjoy the challenge and am just looking forward to seeing the rest of the tournament.”

The 26-year-old, who made her senior England debut in November 2017 and was named in her first World Cup squad four years ago, is amongst the Lionesses with the most major tournament experience having also featured for Team GB at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

England boss Sarina Wiegman has been “pushing” Walsh to take more of a leadership role on the pitch, a role she has somewhat reluctantly accepted.

Walsh added: “Maybe it’s just solving the pictures on the pitch and coaching a little bit more. I wouldn’t say I’m the loudest so it doesn’t come naturally to me. But it’s something she wants me to improve on.

“I think I’m one of the more experienced ones in terms of being at tournaments and winning the Champions League so players do automatically look at that but it’s a team full of leaders and it doesn’t matter if you’ve played one game or 50.

“We listen to each other and respect each other’s opinions. I think that’s what’s so special about this team. Hopefully we can show that against Denmark and what we’re about.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman declared she is willing to “make changes” as the Lionesses look to secure a second successive World Cup victory against Denmark on Friday.

Wiegman stuck with the same starting XI for every match of England’s triumphant Euro 2022 campaign, but the retirements of striker Ellen White and midfielder Jill Scott alongside injuries to European champions Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Fran Kirby have left her current 23-woman squad looking significantly different.

The 53-year-old called for more “ruthlessness” from her side following the nervy 1-0 tournament-opening win over Haiti, decided by Georgia Stanway’s retaken penalty despite several missed chances in open play.

Asked if that demand might also apply to her own team selection, Wiegman replied: “That I’m more likely to make changes doesn’t have to do with that.

“I want to make changes. What we do is approach every game, and then when we get ready for that game we see who is fit and available, and then we make decisions to what we need to start with.

“And then we decide whether we are going to start with the same XI or maybe make some changes.”

England’s performance against underdogs Haiti fuelled concerns that the Lionesses looked rusty, particularly in an attack led by Alessia Russo in favour of Women’s Super League Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly.

There was also a World Cup debut for Chelsea forward Lauren James, who some pundits wanted to start but instead replaced Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp on the left wing after 61 minutes.

Like many of her players this week, Wiegman, who has a fully-fit squad to choose from, was eager to point out that this team and tournament are very different from last summer’s home European Championships.

She said: “We shouldn’t compare it all the time. We’re in a new situation now, and we have some changes in team dynamics.

“We have our style of playing, we want to develop our style of play every time and we want to score goals. That’s one of the parts, of course.

“And that’s what we’re working on all the time, every day. What do we have (to do) to create chances and score goals? That’s what we talk about all the time too. At the end, we hope that the ball gets into the back of the net.”

The Lionesses could book their place in the knockout stage on Friday if they see off Denmark and China do not beat Haiti in the late kick-off.

Scoring will certainly remain a concern, as will be shutting down Denmark number nine and captain Pernille Harder, the ex-Chelsea threat whom England defender Lucy Bronze called “one of the best players in the world”.

Bronze added: “Not just for Chelsea, but also when she played for Wolfsburg and also for Denmark. She’s a tough player, but equally we’ve got many of those in our England side as well.”

Harder, who will go up against several former Blues team-mates, including England defensive duo Millie Bright and Jess Carter, said: “We need to enjoy it, we need to enjoy that, use the energy, even if they might not all support us, take the whole event and use it as a positive.

“Put in the extra effort in the field, really enjoy the moment, that’s what we must do. It’s great to be in a World Cup, that’s for sure, and it’s really cool to play all these matches. So, you shouldn’t think about the pressure but really just think about how cool it is.”

Denmark boss Lars Sondergaard added: “I started saying we were underdogs, sometimes when you enter a match you are underdogs and you need to perform well against a superpower such as England.

“That’s easier said than done but, as Pernille said, there’s a World Cup every four years, you’re not getting many of these opportunities in your career, right? So it would be a mortal sin not to enjoy it.”

England will be looking to end an enthralling Ashes on a high at the Kia Oval this week, taking a deserved share of the spoils despite missing out on a shot at the urn.

Australia’s tour has already been a productive one regardless of what happens over the next five days, having already secured the World Test Championship title at India’s expense and ensured the Ashes are theirs for two more years at least.

But things have been going against them for some time, surviving a Ben Stokes blitz at Lord’s, losing at Headingley and being outclassed at Old Trafford before rain spared them a thrashing.

Had that game played out to its likely conclusion and a 2-2 scoreline, things would be at fever pitch in south London as the cricket world enjoyed a rare winner-takes-all decider.

England have less to play for now but, as captain, Stokes is not lacking drive as he seeks to cap a six-week contest that has reinvigorated the Test game.

“Putting the shirt on, walking out, representing the country, leading this team out is all the motivation I need,” he said.

For opposite number Pat Cummins, the goal is clear: becoming the first Australia captain since Steve Waugh in 2001 to win a series outright on English soil.

“We know that it wasn’t our best week last week and at the end of the game it was a bit of a pat on the back, ‘well done, we’ve retained the Ashes’ but really it feels like the job’s not done,” he said.

“This group has been really motivated to win the series.”

Big numberEnd of an era?

Amazingly given the number of thirty-somethings involved this summer, not to mention James Anderson’s impending 41st birthday, there are no confirmed retirements heading into this match. Despite that there is a growing sense that many of the key combatants are close to the end of their Ashes journey. Anderson has vowed he is not hanging up his boots yet, but will surely be taking it easy when England next head Down Under in 2025/26. Among the rest it is asking a lot for Stuart Broad (37), David Warner (36), Usman Khawaja (36), Chris Woakes (34) and Mark Wood (33) to see this stage again. But first out of the door is likely to be Moeen Ali, the 36-year-old all-rounder who only came out of retirement after an SOS following Jack Leach’s injury.

Australia’s travel troublesStats wars

There is a great prestige attached to topping the charts at the end of a hard-fought Ashes and two Englishmen currently sit atop the standings. Zak Crawley’s outstanding 189 at Old Trafford catapulted him up the run-scoring list with 385 but Khawaja, Stokes, Joe Root, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne have cleared 300 and have a chance to overtake. In the bowling ranks, Broad is on his own with 18 wickets. Cummins, with 16, is his nearest challenger with Mithcell Starc one further back.

Results pitch

After the damp squib in Manchester, fans on both sides will surely want to see a positive result this time. The good news is that in 14 Tests dating back to 2008, there has only been one draw – in the 2013 Ashes. England have won eight and lost five in that time, including a rapid contest against South Africa last summer, a game that lost a day to rain and another after Queen Elizabeth II’s death and still hurried towards a conclusion. Australia also have positive memories, having claimed the crown of Test world champions there against India at the start of the summer.

England captain Ben Stokes is ready to have “serious conversations” about an operation on his troublesome knee injury in a bid to set him on course for another tilt at the Ashes in 2025/26.

Stokes has been struggling badly with a chronic left knee problem for the past year and has been in visible pain throughout the current series against Australia.

Having set his heart on playing a full all-rounder’s role this summer, he has been able to offer just 29 overs with the ball and has not bowled at all in the last two Tests. Batting and fielding also appears to push him to the limit at times and, at the age of 32, a solution needs to be found.

This week’s Ashes finale at the Kia Oval, which England must win to square the scoreline at 2-2, is England’s last red-ball game for six months – a window that offers Stokes the chance to tackle the issue head on.

He had a cortisone injection ahead of this year’s Indian Premier League to help manage his symptoms and, asked if he would now consider going one step further with surgery, he said: “Yeah, it’s something I obviously want to get sorted.

“The times I’ve seen specialists and stuff like that, there has been cricket around, so as it’s been manageable we’ve just cracked on.

“I was pretty broken after the Lord’s game, but I still managed to walk out. I think this is a good time to have some serious conversations with medics around what I could potentially do to get a role in which I can bowl without having to worry about my knee. Those are conversations we will be able to have in that time off.

“It has been frustrating in the last couple of years, not being able to have the same impact and play the same role that I have done for the last 10 years.

“So it’s obviously something that I want to be able to do and hopefully I can get sorted. I keep forgetting that I’m ageing every day.”

Regardless of what happens in the next five days in south London, Stokes knows it will be Pat Cummins lifting the urn instead of him at the end of the game.

That means England are now guaranteed at least a decade between Ashes wins, having last triumphed in 2015, and Stokes would love to be fit and firing to lead the charge Down Under next time around.

“It’d be nice to go out to Australia in 2025 and have a good chance of winning,” he said.

“How this series has gone and how close we were, it does make you think when we next go to Australia do we have a better chance than the last few times?

“The way in which Australians and England players speak about the Ashes, it’s obviously the big one. The Ashes is such an important series for English and Australian cricket and it would be nice to say I’ve won it twice.”

In the short term, Stokes has to work out how to spend his time away. He and head coach Brendon McCullum have worked hard bonding the Test team together over a hectic 12-month period and now face a hiatus before touring India in January.

Stokes has an open invitation to throw his hat back into the ring for England’s 50-over World Cup defence this autumn, but insisted he had no second thoughts about about leaving ODI cricket behind.

“I’m retired,” was his unambiguous response to the idea.

“I’m going on holiday after this game. That’s as far as I’m thinking. But there’s only so much ‘break’ you can cope with. You really do miss that environment, when you’re around the other lads.

“In two or three weeks I’ll probably get bored and just schedule a squad game or something like that.”

Max Malins denies that England have suffered from the high turnover of attack coaches since he made his Test debut almost three years ago.

Eddie Jones, Simon Amor, Martin Gleeson, Nick Evans and Richard Wigglesworth have each filled the role during Malins’ 17-cap Test career that began against Georgia in 2020.

England’s attack has functioned only sporadically during that time, but Malins believes the frequent changes are not the reason for any shortcomings.

“Every attack coach has their own ideas but it doesn’t vary too much,” the Saracens wing said.

“It’s not like we’ve gone from trying to play wide to hitting everything through the middle. As a general picture, it’s been pretty similar.

“There’s a solid foundation and solid coaching group that can take us forward. It hasn’t held me back.”

Wigglesworth has been placed in charge of England’s attack after joining Steve Borthwick’s coaching team from Leicester at the end of the season.

With the World Cup opener against Argentina on September 9 looming large, the four warm-up Tests that start against Wales on Saturday week will provide precious opportunities to lay some foundations.

While Wigglesworth oversees the attack, he is given assistance by fly-half generals Owen Farrell, George Ford and Marcus Smith.

“It’s very collaborative. Richard will give his thoughts on the system and how we want to play,” Malins said.

“But once we’re out on that field there’s a lot of talk: Owen, George and Marcus all pitch in with ideas on different plays as they unfold.

“It’s on the go, in the moment, out on the field, fixing things or appraising things as we do them.

“Owen and George are both students of the game. If you see them chatting in the corner, you know what they’re chatting about. Two unbelievable rugby minds.

“To have those two – and Marcus, who brings a different spin on things – it’s brilliant for the team.”

England captain Ben Stokes had an unusual start to his Ashes press conference on Wednesday, with team-mate Mark Wood interrupting the session with a burst of ‘Barbie Girl’.

Stokes had just sat down to take questions ahead of the fifth Test against Australia when the opening bars of Aqua’s 1997 pop hit began reverberating around the Kia Oval’s indoor school.

Stokes, who was five years old when the novelty track became a UK number one, took the moment in his stride as he puffed his cheeks in deadpan fashion before before correctly guessing the culprit.

Looking up and over his shoulder towards the team gym, he shouted “Woody” as laughter from the assembled journalists replaced the music.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, launched in cinemas in the UK last week.

Stokes proceeded to name an unchanged XI and spent 15 minutes speaking to reporters, but Wood’s DJ set was not quite complete.

As Stokes finished his appearance and stood up to leave, Wood reprised the prank by playing The Imperial March by composer John Williams – better known as the song that heralds the appearance of Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies.

Pat Cummins insists Australia feel a strong sense of unfinished business as they bid to cap retaining the Ashes by completing an overdue series success on English soil.

The tourists begin the fifth and final Test with the urn already in the bag after last week’s Old Trafford washout frustrated England.

Australia have not won a series outright in England since 2001 and blew the chance to do so four years ago after paying the price for some over-exuberant celebrations ahead of their last visit to the Kia Oval, when they also held a 2-1 lead.

Captain Cummins believes the circumstances are completely different this time around and says his side are determined to end the 22-year wait.

“I think the good thing is that it’s a really similar group to 2019,” he said.

“That Manchester (in 2019) was a big win to retain the Ashes, which we hadn’t done for a long time off the back of Headingley, even Lord’s, where we probably missed a trick last series.

“I felt like that was a big exclamation mark on the end of that series with still one Test match to play.

“It feels really different here, this group has been really motivated to win the series.

“We know that it wasn’t our best week last week and at the end of the game it was a bit of a pat on the back, ‘well done, we’ve retained the Ashes’ but really it feels like the job’s not done.”

Australia, who went 2-0 up in the series, were spared a winner-takes-all decider in south London by a rain-ruined end to the fourth Test in Manchester.

England were well in control after piling up a 275-run first-innings lead but, with just 30 overs possible across the last two days, they were prevented from converting their dominance into a series-levelling victory.

The next five days could prove to be the end of an era for this Australia team, most of whom are aged 30 or above and may not be in contention for the next Ashes series in England in 2027.

Opening batter David Warner, who turns 37 in October, on Tuesday quashed rumours he is set to retire imminently and intends to stick to his initial plan of finishing on home soil early next year.

Pace bowler Cummins concedes knowing when to transition from one generation to the next is a complex issue but has no desire to see any player finish prematurely.

“It’s a hard one,” said the 30-year-old. “I certainly don’t want to rush anyone out of the door.

“I think this is about the fourth Ashes series where (England bowler) Jimmy Anderson has said it’s going to be his last one, so you never quite know. It is just an age.

“Some of these guys might be around here in four years and still be at the top level. We’ll see but it’s always a conversation.

“We’re lucky we’ve got white ball cricket, where you can have a soft entry for a lot of the (younger) guys, give them exposure to international cricket.

“It’s something the selectors talk about but really you try and pick your best XI each week.”

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