The verdict is out. Delayed concussion as a result of the bouncer blow on the neck and the final verdict from the team doctor has finally made Steve Smith unavailable for the important 3rd Ashes test at Leeds. This is a huge body blow to Australia ahead of the 3rd test. Smith has already piled up 378 runs in only 3 innings at 126 average and is almost singlehandedly responsible for Australia still clinging on to 1-0 lead. Australia won the 1st test after being down and out at 122/8 in 1st innings and managed to draw the 2nd test and in both cases Smith played stellar roles. The Australian batting has looked very fragile in both tests specially at Lords with Archer and Broad in rampant bowling form. The openers have struggled to moving balls . Bancroft did show some resilience and looked good against Jofra in 2nd dig ,so might keep Harris out for another test. Warner had been pinned down with balls coming into him and looks to be in a dilemma whether to play cautious cricket or to take his normal aggressive approach . The thinktank should advise him to play his normal cricket ,as thats how he has become so successful in tests. Khawaja and Head are not able to convert their confident starts to big knocks. Wade has 1 ton and 3 failures so far and skipper Paine has been mediocre. Concussed sub Labuschagne, however played a resounding knock of 59 in Australia’s 2nd innings at Lords and helped in saving the game. He showed great composure and skill in facing Archer after getting hit on the grill by a blistering bouncer 2nd ball. Therefore he should be a certainty for remainder of the series. He is one good positive for Australia.
The above issues in Australia batting clearly proves Smith’s importance of playing each test as he was holding the batting lineup together singlehandedly. Now England will surely be confident to square the series in which they should have easily been 2-0 up if Smith hadn’t played this series.
Australia selectors probably would need to rejig their bowling lineup as well. Cummins and Lyon are certainties. Hazlewood and Siddle hasnt done much wrong either but probably the time has come to unleash Mitch Starc in the series. The fact that Ausses are leading 1-0 without any contributions from Starc is not a bad result yet for visitors. Starc will provide speed and the xfactor to the Australian bowling to counter the Archer threat , in addition to his left arm angle and his ability to run through the lower half which Australia found difficult to carry out in 3 out of 4 England innings in this series. Pattinson is also fast but he is similar to Cummins, hence Starc, Cummins and probably Hazlewood may well be the fast bowling lineup for Aussies at Leeds , though there is still a good case to play Siddle there looking at the swinging conditions.
The probable Australian XI might be : Bancroft, Warner, Khawaja, Labuschagne, Head, Wade, Paine, Cummins, Starc/ Siddle, Hazlewood, Lyon.
England has got their own batting issues though they are looking the better batting side at the moment . Opener Rory Burns has looked solid overall but Jason Roy has looked out of sorts and probably will move to middle order with the more assured Joe Denly opening the innings. Skipper Root is also having his technical issues and hasnt yet played the impact innings. It’s the England’s lower middle order which has started to fire now with Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler all have started to find their bearings. Chris Woakes had also showed his competence as a batsman. The bowling looks in great hands now with Broad and Woakes bowling well and Archer providing the searing pace and xfactor which has already rattled the Australian batting physically and mentally too. England not missing Anderson currently. Leach, the spinner looked ominous in the 4th innings at Lords . So currently England seem to have lesser issues than Australia. However they can think of getting Sam Curran into the side instead of an out of form Roy. Curran is a solid left hander batsman capable of scoring decent runs and a useful seam bowler who had a great series vs India in 2018 season. He will surely add more value than a struggling Jason Roy. Moreover England will get another bowling option which will allow Root to use Archer in shorter bursts and more lethal spells.
The possible England XI would be : Burns, Denly, Root, Stokes, Roy, Bairstow, Buttler, Woakes, Archer, Broad, Leach. Alternatively Sam Curran can play for Roy and bat after Buttler.
This 3rd test may well decide the momentum and the course of this series. Australia are leading 1-0 but will be without Smith . Its England ,who seem to be looking the more better side now after the Jofra Archer show at Lords.