SYDNEY, December 31- Buoyant England will go into the final Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday intent on wrapping up their first series triumph in Australia for nearly quarter of a century.As holders, Andrew Strauss’s team are already guaranteed to keep hold of the Ashes after thumping Australia by an innings and 157 runs in the fourth Melbourne Test to take a 2-1 series lead with just one match to play.
But despite England’s dominance throughout most of the series, the home side can still pull level at 2-2 under stand-in skipper Michael Clarke if they can turn around their miserable form and win in Sydney.
Strauss is aware that the tourists still have work to do as they seek to become the first English team since Mike Gatting’s men in 1986/87 to win a series Down Under.
"Winning the Ashes in Australia has always been a bit of a Holy Grail for English sides," Strauss said. "Our objective was to come out here and win the series, so we haven’t achieved that yet.
"It’s very reassuring to know that the Ashes are going to remain in England for the next couple of years, but it would leave a very sour taste if we weren’t able to go on and convert our position into a series win in Sydney."
England outplayed Australia in all departments at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to highlight the sorry state of Australian cricket.
Clarke will replace the injured Ricky Ponting and lead Australia for the first time at Test level in Sydney.
X-rays revealed that Ponting had further damaged a fractured little left finger suffered earlier in the series while playing in the fourth Test.
Ponting’s absence in Sydney could dampen incessant speculation over his Test future.
"I’m honoured. It’s for this Test match and hopefully we can get Punter (Ponting) right as soon as possible," Clarke said.
"No doubt (England) are playing really good cricket but it’s a great opportunity for us. It’s a huge Test match."
Ponting’s setback has also created an opportunity for Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja, 24, to become the first Muslim to play Test cricket for Australia and he is likely to bat at number three in the absence of Ponting.
"I’m not here to fill Ricky Ponting’s shoes, I’m going to go out there and try and do the best I can," Khawaja said.
"To replace 12,000 runs is a big feat and I still haven’t scored any."
The Australian team also view the Sydney Test as their big chance to pay back their disillusioned fans after two heavy defeats in Adelaide and Melbourne.
"We have to try and restore some pride. The Australian fans have come out to support us and we really haven’t given them anything to support," opening batsman Shane Watson said.
"We really have to go out there in Sydney and try to keep some of our supporters and fans onside, because unfortunately the way we’ve played we might have turned a few people off, so we are going to have to restore that."
England’s huge 225-run victory in 2003 is the only time Australia have lost at the SCG since 1995.
The SCG pitch is renowned for taking spin, with Shane Warne taking 64 of his wickets there and fellow legspinner Stuart MacGill 53, and offers a chance for England offspinner Graeme Swann to play a prominent role in the final game of the series.
But the weather may prove an obstacle with showers forecast for the first four days.
The first match of the series, in Brisbane, was drawn, with England winning the second Test in Adelaide by an innings before Australia hit back to take the third Test in Perth by 267 runs.