After two fascinating Ashes Test Matches, Australia go into the third match 1-0 up – but without their star batsmen Steve Smith, who has not passed the necessary concussion protocols, after sustaining a vicious blow to the neck at Lords from England’s pace man Jofra Archer.
Smith missed Australia’s second innings at Lords due to the blow – and whilst England will not want Smith down through injury, they will know that his omission is a huge factor and something they must take advantage of should they harbour hopes of reclaiming the Ashes.
The dominance and impact of Smith cannot be understated. He has been an immovable object and not just scored the vast majority of Australian runs, but held innings together, forming partnerships with the lower to middle order that have, ultimately, put Australia in the position they are in. The table below underlines his significance :
AUSTRALIAN BATSMEN – TOP 5 RUNS SCORED/AVERAGE TO DATE (After 2 Tests)
- S Smith – Innings 3, Runs Scored 378, Average 126
- M Labuschagne – Innings 1, Runs Scored 59, Average 59
- J Pattinson – Innings 2, Runs Scored 47, Average 47
- T Head – Innings 4, Runs Scored 135, Average 45
- M Wade – Innings 4, Runs Scored 118, Average 29.5
No other batsman has accrued over 100 runs in the series so far for Australia – also, by contrast, the top English run scoring batsman (Rory Burns) is over 150 runs behind Smith, whilst only Ben Stokes averages over 60 for the home nation.
Although Smith travelled to Headingley and looked to train in preparation with his team mates for the upcoming Test – just four days after Lords – he was held out of all training drills and nets before the Australian coaching staff ruled him out. They will hope that he recovers for the 4th Test, which is due to start 10 days later on Wednesday September 4th, with the fifth and final Ashes test just a week later.
Australia will likely replace Smith with Marnus Labuschagne, who batted for Smith in the 2nd innings at Lords (allowed under concussion rules), who performed admirably in forcing the draw for Australia. Their batting lineup outside of this looks likely to be unchanged – although several of the Australian batsmen have performed poorly so far – especially openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. The Aussie bowling line up may again be switched – with Siddle, Pattinson, Cummins, Starc and Josh Hazelwood all vying for, likely, three places alongside Nathan Lyon.
So England will recognize this opportunity to restore parity to the overall scoreline – but also have batting issues of their own. Opener Jason Roy also had to pass a concussion test after being struck on the head in the nets when facing throwdowns. Roy has not been in any kind of form so far, scoring only 40 runs across four innings – but is expected to retain his place, although Ollie Pope has been put on standby. There has also been talk of dropping Roy down the batting order, promoting Joe Denly. But again things are likely to remain unchanged.
Maybe somewhat surprisingly, Chris Woakes’ place is under scrutiny, with Sam Curran being touted as his possible replacement. Woakes has delivered with both the bat and the ball, but his extended spells at Edgbaston following the injury to James Anderson has raised the question of whether he needs a rest, after a long summer helping England to World Cup glory, with this match coming so soon after Lords. Such has been the form of Woakes and the need for an England win that it seems certain he will line up.
All eyes will be on Jofra Archer and whether he can terrorise the Australian batsmen again on what looks to be a harder wicket than at Lords. But there is no doubt his ferocity and hostility will be causing more than a few lost hours sleep for Warner & Co,
With the weather set fair for all five days, this is clearly a pivotal game in determining who’s hands the Ashes urn will rest in. The Australians will want to show they are not a one-man-band – but the loss of Smith cannot be ignored. England finished strongly at Lords and we expect ENGLAND to level the series by winning at Headingley.