Action to resume once again after ten days of Ben Stokes epic which enabled jailbreak and hijack of a test match by England to restore parity in a high octane and widely followed test series. It’s all square as the teams face off at Manchester, the home of two most famous English football clubs, on a reportedly fast paced pitch.
England after their sensational win at Leeds ,appear to have the momentum now exclusively due to one man– Ben Stokes. Well, there had been good shows with the bat finally from their skipper, scoring 77 and from Denly (50) but it was Stokes who won the game from nowhere.
Battingwise ,there are still issues in the England opening stand with Jason Roy not measuring up to test match standards and Rory Burns after his 1st test 100 notwithstanding, looks to be getting exposed by short stuff in more recent outings. The verdict is out that a more solid Joe Denly will open the batting with Burns in next test with Roy dropping down at 4. Rest remain same with Root, Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler forming the middle order with Woakes to follow. The bowling should remain same as of last test with James Anderson no longer available in this series , as a result Chris Woakes keeps his spot with the impressive Broad and the new superstar Jofra Archer with Stokes and Leach rounding off the bowling stocks. Probably England may have missed a trick by not getting Sam Curran in the XI instead of Roy as on current form not many will bet on Roy scoring more runs than Curran who also can give a more than decent left arm pace option which ruined India last season.
With England bowlers having great successes against their left handers , the Australian thinktank has made few changes in batting order however not necessarily in line of reducing the number of lefties in their lineup.. Smith is obviously returning after missing out at Leeds due to delayed concussion suffered as a result of that searing Archer bouncer and Labuschange, Smith’s concussed substitute has also made himself a certain selection after his 3 resilient half centuries which means 1 left hander to miss out. The Aussie selectors could also have looked at playing Mitch Marsh instead of Mathew Wade on two counts, firstly Marsh is righthand bat and secondly his medium pace can come as a handy relief for the other fast bowlers who can then bowl in more shorter and sharper spells. However southpaw Wade has been persisted with .
The big news however has been the dropping of senior batter Khawaja who could not produce the big knocks after getting set in most outings averaging in the 20s as the tour selectors kept their faith in Harris. It was widely expected that Harris would make way for Smith and Khawaja would open but the selectors thought differently. However with batsmen getting hit so regularly in this series , Khawaja as a concussed substitute cant be ruled out.
Australia skipper Tim Paine along with poor handling of reviews at Leeds have struggled with the bat.in this series . He will surely look to make some serious contributions there.
MIchel Starc may finally get his chance in this test to provide the left arm variety plus creating footmarks for offie Nathan Lyon to exploit . In case Starc is selected ,Siddle is most likely to missout from the twelve selected with Pattinson not been considered . No doubts on sustaining the impressive Hazlewood and Cummins.
We will further await some serious personal duels in this test, the leading amongst them :
Hazlewood v Root : Hazlewood has troubled Root the most in their duels. Will be interesting to see how Root faces up to the skills of Hazlewood.
Stokes v Starc : If Starc plays, he will surely like to get his wood on Stokes in similar lines with his searing Yorker with which bowled Stokes in the World cup league face off last June.
Warner v Broad : Broad has clearly dominated Warner with his seam and swing movement in this series. Can the positive thinking Warner get back at him at Old Trafford where the pace of the pitch may suit his batting style?
Smith v Archer : This is the mother of all duels. Smith will be facing the scorchers from Jofra for the 1st time since his fierce knock on the neck. The pace in the Old Trafford pitch will be reportedly high. Can Smith counter Archer’s grenades after that near fatal hit and will he be using stem guards? The whole world will be watching for sure.
The weather forecast is however not overly encouraging with rain forecasts looming large. With the series all square and everything to play for with an array of fast bowlers raring to dominate from both sides, the fans will be praying for the rains to keep away .
With all in readiness for the high octane 4th Ashes test to begin, the teams will be as under .
England : Burns, Denly, Root, Roy, Stokes, Bairstow, Buttler, Woakes, Archer, Leach, Broad
Australia: Warner, Harris, Labuschagne, Smith,Head, Wade, Paine, Cummins, Starc/Siddle, Lyon, Hazlewood.