Cricket

Ashes 2019 – 4th Test Preview – Smith returns as Australia ring the changes

Ben Stokes heroics at Headingley levelled the 2019 Ashes series, with the score now 1-1 with two to play. Australia know that, going into the fourth Test, at Old Trafford, if they can win here, they will reclaim the urn – and will have batting talisman Steve Smith back for this pivotal match.

Smith missed the memorable third test with concussion after being hit in the neck by a Jofra Archer bouncer at Lords. He did not pass the concussion protocol in time for Headingley, but did appear for the Australians in their tour match at Derbyshire, where he made 23. That is more than enough for coach Justin Langer, eager for Smith to return and hopefully continue his run of form that has seen him average 126 so far this Ashes.

Marnus Labuschagne replaced Smith across the second and third test – and he has performed very well in his stead. Labuschagne has averaged 71 himself in his three innings and provided some solid resistance to the English bowling attack where others have failed. Coach Langer has deemed that Labuschagne, who also provides some part time spin bowling options, keeps his place even with the return of Smith – Usman Khawaja (above) makes way for Labuschagne, who will go in at number 3, with Smith returning to his usual number 4 spot. Marcus Harris is expected to open alongside David Warner at the top of the innings.

James Pattinson is being held out for Old Trafford, so it will be either Peter Siddle or Mitchell Starc joining Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood to spear head the Australian attack. Starc has not bowled in the 2019 Ashes series yet, and took match figures of 7/85 against Derbyshire as they completed an innings victory – but the feeling is that it will be Siddle who gets the nod – his ability with the willow maybe just being the deciding factor.

For England, they announced earlier that James Anderson (above) will miss the rest of the tour – with his four overs at Edgbaston being his only contribution to this Ashes series – and quite possibly that being his last involvement in Ashes cricket. Anderson has been the mainstay of England’s bowling attack for over a decade now, and is still top class when fit. But, at 37, and owing nothing to the England cause, one has to question just whether Anderson can again survive an intense Test series – and if not, whether one or two games is really that beneficial to the line up long term.

But – again – it is the batting line up that is the issue for England. For all Stokes’ heroics, it cannot overshadow that when taking his runs out of the third test, England were 286/18 at Headingley. The current Ashes series batting averages for the home nation tells its own tale :

  • B Stokes : Innings 6, Average 81.75
  • R Burns : Innings 6, Average 40.33
  • J Root : Innings 6, Average 29.33
  • C Woakes : Innings 6, Average 28.00
  • J Bairstow : Innings 6, Average 27.20
  • J Denly : Innings 6, Average 24.50
  • J Archer : Innings 3, Average 11.33
  • S Broad : Innings 5, Average 11.00
  • J Roy : Innings 6, Average 9.50
  • J Buttler : Innings 6, Average 9.16

After that, there is Jack Leach, Moeen Ali and James Anderson. That’s it.

The quandary is for England that there remain few alternatives to bring in to the side, with the hope being that the likes of Roy, Buttler, Bairstow and Denly can find some form – quickly – to enable them to put decent scores on the board and not have to rely on the superhuman efforts of Ben Stokes to win them Test matches. One thing England have already announced is to promote Joe Denly to open with Rory Burns, with Jason Roy (above) dropping down to number four. But that aside, England are likely to be unchanged from the ‘team’ that won the last test, as they look to carry the momentum from that amazing Sunday at Headingley to Old Trafford.

It promises to be another exciting test match, with both teams believing it is one they can win and take a commanding lead to the Oval for the fifth and final Ashes game. For England, they MUST start to deliver with the bat. As sensational a comeback and innings from Stokes it was, it was an innings that may never be repeated – and far too much to expect from him time after time. The first innings at Headingley was as bad it gets – and cannot be repeated. Patience, technique and focus have to be the buzz words in the England dressing room if they are to put enough runs on the board to win the match in a much more usual fashion than they did last time out.

For Australia, they will know that lightning rarely strikes twice, and they have been the better side for most of the series to date.  Very much a case of more of the same please – and will be buoyed by the return of Smith. He will know that as soon as he strides out to the crease, one certain Jofra Archer will immediately be thrown the nut – and he will highly likely be having to take evasive action again. Physically we know Smith will be fine…but mentally is where he will be tested. For all his resolve and talent, being felled by *that* delivery has to have some lasting effect – it will be fascinating to see this battle of Smith versus Archer….and maybe Smith versus himself.

Unfortunately, certainly for the first three days of the Test match, rain may well play an unwanted part and cause disruption to the game – and the conditions. But we still feel a result will be possible here…and whilst it goes against every sentiment possible, it is AUSTRALIA that are the selection to take what should really have been theirs at Headingley, and retain the Ashes here at Old Trafford.

THE ASHES 2019 – SERIES SUMMARY TO DATE

  • 1st TEST : Edgbaston – Australia won by 251 runs
  • 2nd TEST : Lords – Match Drawn
  • 3rd TEST : Headingley – England won by 1 wicket
  • 4th TEST : Old Trafford – Wednesday 4 September to Sunday 8 September
  • 5th TEST : The Oval – Thursday 12 September to Monday 16 September