Australia concluded preparations for the fifth Ashes Test against England at The Oval with a testing draw with Division Two side Northamptonshire at the County Ground. Incoming captain Steven Smith was out for a duck as the tourists declared on 312 for 9 in their first innings.
A washout on day one had ensured a result was a near impossibility but after being put to the sword by Northants via Steven Crook's 142 not out from 96 balls, Darren Lehmann's side toiled once again with the bat. Australia were reduced to 87 for 5 before 68 from Mitchell Marsh (68) and Pat Cummins's 82 not out restored some much-needed respectability to the scorecard.
Crook was again the chief tormentor with 3 for 38, while Ben Sanderson continued Shane Watson's miserable tour by trapping the all-rounder lbw for just 20. There were also prized wickets for Richard Gleeson and Maurice Chambers, who dismissed Smith as Australia crumbled.
The world number two-ranked nation in the ICC Test standings head to the Oval hoping to prevent their heaviest Ashes series defeat for 36 years. England, meanwhile, can record a fourth Test win in a home series against Australia for the first time ever.
Michael Clarke will captain Australia for the final time in his last international appearance but the pressure is already mounting on his predecessor, Smith, who has endured a horrendous tour with the bat and been replaced by Joe Root as the number one batsman in Test cricket. Smith must face balancing the demands of the captaincy with recapturing his own form but former skipper Ricky Ponting does not believe this should lead to him moving down the batting order.
"I firmly believe that as Australia's new captain Steven Smith should continue batting at number three once he takes on the role," he told Cricinfo. "I know there have been a few people saying that he's not a long-term option in that position based on what they have seen in this Ashes series, but I definitely think it is where he should bat from here on.
"He will have to think about is how he will adjust to the demands of being the full-time captain. As I discovered, it is genuinely life-changing. I got a taste of things as ODI captain for two years before taking over as Test skipper from Steve Waugh. Smith has the advantage of having led Australia for three Tests at home last summer, when he did a solid job in difficult circumstances."