It seems like an aeon since the First Test, when Australia shocked just about everyone, not the least themselves, by winning. Sure, star bowler James Anderson was ruled out through injury after bowling just four overs. But England were still a very, very long way ahead when they had Australia at 8/122, and when England had a first innings lead of 90 then had Australia 2/37. For Australia to win was a minor miracle, but to win by the margin they ended up with was the kind of win that will go down in history. The question is whether we can rely on Steve Smith to rescue us every time.
England named their 12 first, with James Anderson ruled out with injury while Moeen Ali was ruled out through having a really bad performance. Moeen Ali’s replacement was the man of the match against Ireland, Jack Leach, while they are yet to decide if the other star against Ireland, Sam Curran, will come in for Anderson, or if England will go with a pure bowler in Jofra Archer (though his 2nd division century suggests that he can bat a bit too). While just about everyone is saying it will be Archer, they also said he’d play in the First Test, and he didn’t, and this might be more of a risk than a lot of people think.
England like their all-rounders and, in a team without a lot of experience, the inexperienced Jofra Archer may be too big a risk while the proven performer Sam Curran may be a good option. England also have the option of playing both and leaving Jack Leach out, as Lords isn’t usually particularly conducive to spin. With the fear Australia seem to have surrounding Archer, it may well be worth playing him. Australia don’t seem to have the same kind of fear about the innocuous spin of Jack Leach, and his batting miracle against Ireland does seem a bit unlikely to take place twice.
England (possible): Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes
As predicted, Australia have added Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to the XI that won the first test, though they are saying it is about rotating the bowling rather than about Starc and Hazlewood being better. Siddle is in the 12 but is not expected to play, as the irresistible idea of having the left-armed in-form Mitchell Starc in the side seems a bit too much to miss. While there is the chance of all four fast bowlers playing, as it is at Lords, Lyon’s 9 wickets at Edgbaston suggest that he will be playing.
One other option that Australia may consider is playing an extra bowler and dumping a batsman. Given his awful contributions, his attitude and his general lack of aptitude for test cricket, Cameron Bancroft could yet be left out. It’s not like Australia will miss his contribution of 8 & 7 from Edgbaston, which Siddle bettered from number 10 in the order with his 44, and Siddle can bowl too. It seems strange to suggest it but Lords is a very unusual ground and unusual teams are often the way to go. With Cummins, Starc and Siddle all able to bat reasonably well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they came in at numbers 7, 8 and 9 instead of 8, 9 and 10. All 3 are genuine number 8s anyway.
Australia (possible): David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head (vice-captain), Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (captain and wicketkeeper), Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc
Less than a month ago, England looked all the world like losing to Ireland at Lords when they were reduced to 85 all out then Ireland responded with a massive 207, but a confident 92 from usual number 11 Jack Leach, opening the batting as a nightwatchman of sorts, helped England to 303 and a lead of 181, which was 143 runs too many for Ireland, who were all out for an incredible 38 as England won in miraculous circumstances.
The problem is that Ireland are winless in test cricket and are a very long way behind Australia, and if England play as badly as they did against Ireland then chances are that Australia will win easily.
While England are 5-2 with 1 draw in their last 8 tests at the venue since 2015, the problem is that Australia are one of two teams to beat them, and Australia’s own record at Lords is also 5-2 with 1 draw in their last 8 tests, though in Australia’s case that takes us all the way back to 1993. Australia won their last test at the venue back in 2015 by a mammoth 403 runs when Steve Smith scored a double century, ably supported by a 173 from Chris Rogers. Steve Smith is playing again this time too, and is if anything in even better form than he was in 2015, plus Australia are already 1-0 up and are in some kind of form.
While Lords is a good venue for England, that’s not the case when it comes to Australia.
Players to watch:
Steve Smith is the name on everyone’s lips, and, with twin 140s in the 1st test under the most difficult of circumstances, and a double century the last time he played at Lords, everyone is expecting him to do well, and he should, but will the expectations be too much? He might want someone to go with him, like Chris Rogers did back in 2015.
David Warner has long been said to be Smith’s partner-in-crime but, in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal where he and Smith became the first players in history to be banned for helping someone to tamper with the ball, rather than doing it themselves, and one bookmaker at least has Warner favourite to score the most runs. He failed at Edgbaston and such failures tend to lead to Warner having more fire in his belly, especially given the rich vein of form he is in. Much will depend on whether Bancroft plays, and how much it affects him. It certainly affected him in the 1st test. If Bancroft plays, then Warner will need to concentrate a lot more than he did in the 1st test to score big. Perhaps the bookmakers know something more than what the general public does, as he is the favourite to top the run scoring, which tells me that Bancroft isn’t going to play. Fingers crossed that’s right, for all Australian fans.
Joe Root has just had some bad press. According to some reports, he is no longer one of the “big 4”, as Smith, Williamson and Kohli are now a distance ahead of him. He is still England’s best batsman and will have a point to prove. He wasn’t bad in the 1st test but he wasn’t Smith level. At Lords, he is the bookmakers’ favourite to top the run scoring for England, and, for England’s sakes, I hope that that is right. It’s always good to see good players do well.
Ben Stokes has had some amazing publicity lately, as he has emerged from the World Cup triumph as a hero, not a thug, shedding the image he got after that bar-room brawl he had to face trial for in the middle of England’s last Ashes campaign in Australia. If only David Warner could shed his bad image in the same way. He is in some kind of form too, albeit that his performances in the 1st test were somewhat under par.
Five Fearless Predictions
(1) We are going to have a result
While Lords had a series of draws about 15 years ago, since then it has been one result after another. With both sides being more bowling-orientated than batting, low scores look likely to be the norm, meaning that a result is on the way.
(2) Fast bowlers will be very happy
Whether Jofra Archer plays or Sam Curran or both, and whether it is Mitchell Starc or Peter Siddle or Josh Hazlewood or all three, we know that we are going to have some terrifying quick bowlers. With spinners tending to struggle at Lords, and with England struggling to find a decent one, they might not even play one, while Australia’s resident spin bowler, Nathan Lyon, is unlikely to find the kind of purchase that he found in Edgbaston. Lyon will almost certainly play, but it seems unlikely that he will get 9 wickets again. You never know, though, as Lyon is in the best form of his career, and perhaps he could get wickets where none exist.
(3) The Lords slope will be a massive factor
Long ago, they considered changing Lords so that it would be flatter, but the bowlers objected, as they use the slope to their advantage, especially fast bowlers. Bowl at the right angle and the ball can do some weird things that it doesn’t do at other grounds. Batsmen tend to struggle but if they can work out how to use the slope to their advantage, they too can do well. It’s not like Perth at all, but it is in the sense that it is unusual to play on. England should have an advantage, except that Lords is so well-known that Australia for one are well and truly used to its tricks.
(4) It’s going to be close
Australia came back hard in the 1st test and have all of the momentum, but England know that they were playing 10 men versus 11, and whoever they bring in, whether it is Curran or Archer or both, will make a big impact. They also won’t have their worst player from the 1st test Moeen Ali, and they will take a lot of faith in that. The big thing England took from Edgbaston was the question of how to get Smith out. They’ve had two weeks to try to figure that out. Perhaps by now they have learned.
(5) Australia will win
Australia have form, and Lords is a good ground for Australia, plus Smith’s last performance at Lords was a double-century, while he is coming off the back of twin 140s. Add to that the fact that Australia correctly made changes to a winning team and they are doing everything right. Well, besides not dropping Bancroft. If Bancroft does miss the final 11, then victory is all but certain. Even without that, Australia are doing enough right to win the match, but it will be close.