It seems only yesterday we suddenly found ourselves hanging on for dear life, our best player and one-man army Steve Smith ruled out of the test concussed, and the first full concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne about to go out. We survived, reasonably easily in the end, but there were moments where it appeared a little scary. Now, if we win the 3rd test, we retain the Ashes. It was almost so very different.
England have retained an unchanged team, a rarity for England even when they win. To do this after a draw is very unusual for them. JJ Roy was probably pretty lucky and even Jos Buttler could have been let go but the others were fairly easy picks. Sam Curran continues to be unlucky but looks likely to remain as 12th man.
England team (probable): Joe Root (capt), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wk), Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes.
While there was a thought to give James Anderson a try, he will be coming back via a Lanchashire 2nd XI game, a far less risky affair than a 5-day test. If he makes it through that match unscathed then he is a chance to line up for the 4th test, though who would miss out is anybody’s guess, as Broad, Woakes and Archer are all in pretty good form and there doesn’t appear to be room. Would England go all-pace just to accommodate Anderson? Would they leave Woakes out? It’s a tough decision to make.
One change is a given, with Steve Smith ruled out long before the team has been announced, with his full concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne expected to take his place in the XI. Labuschagne outfitted himself well in the test, scoring 59 runs when he came out to bat.
But does it stop there?
With David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in the worst of bad form, it would be absurd to retain them. Their partnership simply doesn’t work, and, while there are question marks as to whether they are both individually out of form, or if, alternatively, it is just that they can’t play together, one thing is for sure: this partnership needs to be broken. While Bancroft has scored double Warner’s runs, that looks unlikely to be a major factor, especially as Bancroft is only averaging 11. Marcus Harris looks likely to slot straight into the side.
While Warner may find his position under question if he fails with Harris, it is worthwhile to give it a one test trial. If Warner and Harris fire, then we can say goodbye to Bancroft for the rest of the series. If Warner fails, then we can either go back to Bancroft, but with Harris, or we can try Khawaja opening, or perhaps Head. The selectors may yet retain Bancroft instead of Warner, but that would seem to be overly risky. They might even keep both, but they shouldn’t.
The third potential change is to bring Mitchell Starc in, whose wicket-taking ability was sadly missed in both tests played so far. With Siddle managing five wickets in two tests, Hazlewood three in one and Pattinson two in one, we are sadly missing bowlers who can take wickets. While Cummins and Lyon are locks, the question is who the other two bowlers are.
My pick is to bring back Starc and retain Hazlewood alongside him, which is then going back to the big three, the three fast bowlers who have carried Australia for the past few years. Pattinson might come back instead or as well but it seems that that is less likely. A straight swap of Siddle for Starc looks likely.
Australia (possible): Marcus Harris, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (wk) (c), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon
Headingley is one of England’s worst test grounds of late, with England winning only 3 tests, with 1 draw and 6 losses in their past 10 tests.
Australia has done well at Headingley too, winning their last test here, back in 2009, by an innings, also winning the 1997 test by an innings, but in between time, in 2001, they lost. That loss came when Australia scored 447 batting first, led by 138 runs, and set England an improbable 315 for victory, with England running it down easily to win by 6 wickets. It was one of Adam Gilchrist’s few Tests as captain, and easily Mark Butcher’s best ever Test performance, his 173 not out from 227 balls coming from nowhere, and not being repeated either.
Players to watch:
David Warner has, for the second match in a row, been the bookmakers’ favourite to score the most runs, which is bizarre for people who have seen his run of low scores, where he has failed to get into double figures in any of his four innings to date. Things might be easier for him if they dump Bancroft and give him a more competent partner, but this prediction does seem somewhat unlikely.
Just the same, he is Australia’s second best Test batsman, after Steve Smith, and, with Smith ruled out through injury, he will be the best. Perhaps that will push him from single figures to double, and, hopefully, triple figures. He certainly has form and skill and experience, and he is due. If he can do as well as he should, then it could surprise England.
Jofra Archer was surprisingly good on his test debut, showing a lot of maturity for someone playing his first test, just a few months after his international debut. There was a problem with intent, after he refused to check on Steve Smith after he was hit on a neck by a bouncer, and some claim that he bowled too many overs.
The expectation is that he can keep it up, and, with James Anderson looking to kick out one of Archer, Woakes or Broad for his expected 4th test return, Archer will have a point to prove that he should not be the one to let go. That, and the prospect of being a part of a win in only his 2nd test, could be enough to spur him on to greater things.
Marnus Labuschagne will almost certainly play, and the big question mark is how big a loss it will be from Smith to Labuschagne. Nobody is expecting Labuschagne to suddenly be the best batsman in the world, and possibly the best of all time after Bradman, but Labuschagne could still be the best batsman in the Australian team.
He is the leading scorer in County Cricket this season and was widely expected to play in the First test, and only just missed out. But whether he is Smith good is another question entirely. England are certainly looking at him as a weak link so if he can be a strength then it could make a big difference.
Joe Root has failed to fire so far but he has a lot of potential. If he can go big, the rest of the English side might go with him. It could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Five Fearless Predictions:
(1) Australia will make at least two changes
I just can’t see them limiting it to the forced change of Labuschagne in for Smith, not with the Warner-Bancroft partnership misfiring this badly. I fear that it might be Warner to miss out but I expect it will be Bancroft. It’s possible that they won’t cut either but I don’t think that’s tenable. I am hoping that Starc plays as well, and I don’t really mind if Siddle or Hazlewood misses out, but I think Siddle should be the one let go. Certainly, I can’t see Australia winning if they don’t get rid of Bancroft. If Australia play Starc, their chances of winning go up even higher.
(2) Australia are going to miss Smith
Smith right now is like Bradman in 1948, or perhaps Mitchell Johnson bowling in the 2013/14 Ashes series. He is winning the man of the match award every game, or close to it. Perhaps Shakib al Hasan in the early stages of the World Cup level. The next best batsman is supposed to be Warner, and after that Khawaja, but both of them are doing badly in this tournament, and after those three we don’t even know who the next best is. Marnus Labuschagne might be there, but he is unlikely to be anywhere near Smith level. If Australia fail like they did in the first two tests, there is no Smith to rescue them.
(3) This is a bad ground for England but…
If this were the venue for the 1st test, all things being equal you’d just about chalk this up for an Australian win, and, had we been coming here after the 1st test win, then surely we could chalk this up for a win too. But England have some momentum, and there is no Smith. It’ll certainly be tough, but Australia have some chance.
(4) Much depends on the selections
If Bancroft plays, Australia are in big trouble. If he is cut, then Australia are a chance. If Starc plays, then the chance gets bigger. But if Australia go in unchanged, bar the forced change of Smith for Labuschagne, then surely it is all over. It’s really nerve-wracking. Rarely has the result of a match hinged so much on selections. But that is the case here. Not that Australia can’t win with Bancroft or that they are guaranteed to win if he is cut, so much as it increases the chances significantly. Either way, they still have Broad, Woakes and Archer to contend with, but are up against an out of form English batting line-up.
(5) This should be low-scoring
Both sides are struggling with their batting but doing well with their bowling. The major difference is that Australia have changed their bowling while England have been quite settled, oh and Australia have Smith while England don’t have anyone at the same level. The chances of scores around the 200-250 mark seem high. It should be close too. Australia might even win. But only if the selections are right.