Thanks to Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley, England have somehow emerged with a fair chance of winning this year’s Ashes. For most of the previous three Test matches, Australia have definitely had the upper hand and it looked like the Ashes would be heading back Down Under.
But with Ben Stokes giving us one of the all-time greatest Test innings, England are back in with a shout. However, the fourth Test at Old Trafford could once again give England a few headaches. With Jimmy Anderson out for the rest of the series, and Steve Smith preparing to make his return, it seems that Australia will be keen to make amends for the surprise defeat in Headingley.
The fourth Test begins on Wednesday 4 September, and by the time that the cricket match concludes on 8 September, we’ll have a good idea of whether England can defy the odds and win the Ashes for the first time since 2015.
How will England cope without Jimmy Anderson?
England’s chances of reclaiming the Ashes suffered a major blow last week when Jimmy Anderson injured his right calf while playing for Lancashire. He had hoped that the match would convince England’s selectors that he was fit after the injury received during the opening Test match in Edgbaston.
But Anderson’s injury now means that he will miss the rest of the series, and England will be without their all-time leading wicket taker. As a result the Somerset medium-fast bowler Craig Overton will be added to the England squad. Although Overton has managed to pick up seven wickets in three Test matches, he is unlikely to make the starting eleven, with the likes of Sam Curran being the favourite to take Anderson’s place.
It will also be a bitter personal blow for Anderson, as the fact that he is 37-years old will mean that he will probably be unlikely to play against Australia again. He had previously taken 104 wickets in 32 Test matches against Australia, and he will have been hoping for a grand final farewell against the team.
The rise of Jofra Archer
With Anderson out of the picture, England will once again have to rely upon their pace attack of Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer. The arrival of Archer in the England team is one of the relatively few positives taken from the current Ashes series.
The 24-year old has taken 13 Test wickets since he came on the scene at Lord’s. Picking up 6-45 at Headingley was an undoubted highlight, but it was the way that Archer took Steve Smith out of the third Test with a wicked bouncer that proved his true potential. His team-mate Stuart Broad has already said that Archer will demand to bowl at Smith in the fourth Ashes test, and the young bowler is clearly capable of delivering big results under pressure.
Steve Smith set to cause England more problems
Although Steve Smith will probably never get over the ball-tampering scandal, it doesn’t appear to have dented his abilities to score runs. The Australian batsman has been in formidable form all the way through the Ashes series, and he’ll be expected to be on form again at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
So far Smith is the leading run-scorer at the current Ashes series with 378 runs, and he has a phenomenal batting average of 126. Smith’s 144 on his Test return quickly signalled that he wasn’t going to be cowed by the huge amount of taunting that was served up by the England fans. Although David Warner and Cameron Bancroft seemed ruffled by the pressure, Smith’s persona seems perfectly designed to deal with such situations.
For a moment it seemed that Smith was on a one-man mission to destroy England’s chances of reclaiming the Ashes. Smith’s successive scores of 144, 142 and 92 showed that he was virtually unbeatable, had it not been for Jofra Archer’s 92.4 mph bouncer that struck him on the neck and caused him to retire hurt just short of his third successive century. Although Smith came back, he was clearly shaken and showed a lack of judgement by playing a straight ball from Chris Woakes and was out lbw.
The 30-year old is set to return to action at Old Trafford, and he will be hoping to add a touch of stability to the Australian batting line-up that struggled against the likes of Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer. Although the right-handers Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have been excellent, left-handers like David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head have all struggled with the new ball.
At the moment Australia’s first wicket partnership has yielded an average score of just over 10, and this problem must be resolved if Australia want to settle the series in Old Trafford. Thankfully with the return of Smith, there is plenty of hope lower down the batting order.
Smith was sidelined for the third test as a result of concussion, but he was quick to claim that Archer hadn’t actually got him out. All of which means that the fourth Test will present a fascinating battle between the experienced Smith and the young challenger Archer.
Resolving England’s batting problems
Australia’s problems with their top order batting are nothing compared to what England have had to contend with. Their astonishing first innings batting collapse at Headingley produced a score of just 67 all-out which was their lowest Ashes score since 1948.
Although Ben Stokes managed to do the unthinkable and save the Ashes by posting an outrageous score of 135 not-out in the second innings, it’s clear that England simply cannot rely upon such heroics.
Much of the blame for England’s miserable batting has been levelled at Jason Roy. After his excellent record in the Cricket World Cup, it was thought that his aggressive opening style would be just what was needed against Australia. However, such tactics quickly backfired and Roy’s highest score in the current Ashes campaign is a fairly miserable 28.
England’s selectors haven’t given up on Roy just yet. Rather than dropping the Surrey star, they have opted to put him lower down the batting order at Old Trafford. As a result, Roy will make an appearance at number four to face the older ball, while Joe Denly will become a new opener.
It’s an interesting decision seeing as Denly has only averaged just over 24 from his six Tests. But hopes are that the 33-year old can repeat the half-century he scored against tough opposition at Headingley last month.
Of course, England batting problems go much further than Roy’s lack of form. Rory Burns managed get an excellent 133 at Edgbaston and a half-century at Lord’s before coming unstuck for 9 and 7 at Headingley. Joe Root got a couple of half-centuries but two successive ducks reveals plenty of weaknesses, while even the big-hitting likes of Jos Buttler have had a torrid time with a batting average of just 9.16 from six innings.
So what’s the cause of England’s issues with the bat? Many people have speculated that England’s newfound confidence for one-day cricket has meant that their Test performances have suffered. Some of the reckless shots shown in the Ashes series certainly back this up, and while Ben Stokes’ reverse sweeps might be breathtaking, it’s not a tactic that is going to win back the Ashes for England.
Other factors that could decide the fourth Ashes Test
Although England were riding their luck at Headingley, Australia will certainly be blaming themselves for many missed opportunities to seal the Ashes last month. As a result we can expect Australia to come out firing on all cylinders at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
But with the weather in Manchester proving notoriously unpredictable, there are fears that this could be another Ashes wash-out. At the moment, it looks like there will be rain delays for the first half of the match with Wednesday and Friday looking like the days worst-affected. The weekend looks a touch better and England will be hoping for dry weather to keep their hopes of Ashes glory alive.
Past form indicates that Australia should win this Test match. Australia have won three out of the four matches played at Old Trafford, although it should be remembered that both teams haven’t played each other here since 2013.
Australia also produced a great result in their recent tour match against Derbyshire which saw the visitors winning by an innings and 54 runs on the third day. This match was notable for the fact that it saw Mitchell Starc producing an excellent 4-39 as Derbyshire were skittled out for 112 in their second innings. With Starc looking to finally get the call-up to the Australian attack, then England’s shaky batting could be in real problems.
But with Ben Stokes’ unbelievable innings at Headingley still reverberating in the minds of all cricket fans, it’s clear that anything could happen at Old Trafford.