Most of us are still recovering from the excitement of the 3rd test match, when Ben Stokes put his Superhero cape on to bring England back from nowhere to win by 1 wicket, made all the more incredible when you consider that, with Australia still 1 run ahead, Australia had three chances to win and threw all three away. First, Nathan Lyon had the easiest of runout chances slip between his fingers. The very next ball, Nathan Lyon had Ben Stokes out plumb LBW only for it to be turned down by umpire Joel Wilson, which could not be reviewed as Australia had wasted their review shortly beforehand. The third chance was when world number 1 test bowler Pat Cummins had a full over to bowl to number 11 Jack Leach but failed to produce a single wicket-taking delivery.
The match wasn’t one-way traffic either, as it ebbed and flowed, with England on top at various stages and Australia on top, but at the end it looked like Australia would win by 1 run, and in 3 different ways they should have, but they didn’t. We can complain about the bad umpiring, but we had wasted our own review on something that was never out, and, most importantly, we stuffed up an easy runout, so we can’t really complain too much about the effect of the poor umpiring. Given how bad the umpiring standard is worldwide right now, singling out Joel Wilson seems a bit unfair.
England enter the 4th test on a massive high, while Australia are a bit shellshocked. Scores are locked 1-1 with this and one other test to play, but Australia only need to win 1 of the tests to retain the Ashes, as they are the title holders. Even if England win here, the Ashes could yet remain in Australia with a win in the 5th test.
James Anderson was initially planning to return to the England team for this match but has now been confirmed to miss this test and the next one on top of that, in a situation eerily similar to that for Dale Steyn in the World Cup, which led to his retirement. Anderson’s replacement in the squad, Craig Overton, has surprisingly been named in the XI, ahead of the in-form Sam Curran, which is a bit of a shock. Perhaps more surprising is that England are still refusing to include in-form opener Ollie Pope in the team, especially given the form of both of England’s openers. Reportedly Joe Denly will try his hand at opening with Jason Roy returning to the middle order, though whether that helps either is another issue entirely.
Team: 1 Rory Burns, 2 Joe Denly, 3 Joe Root (capt), 4 Jason Roy, 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 7 Jos Buttler, 8 Craig Overton, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 Jack Leach.
Steve Smith was declared fit and comes straight back into the squad, though his replacement, Marnus Labuschagne, unsurprisingly got to stay in there with him, leading to speculation as to who misses out instead. While Matthew Wade was widely tipped to be the one to miss out, it was instead Usman Khawaja who was cut, in spite of an impressive 72 in the tour match, while being named captain, compared to Matthew Wade’s 12. In other news, James Pattinson was predictably cut after a poor 3rd test, with Mitchell Starc predictably named to replace him, though surprisingly Peter Siddle has been named alongside Starc, indicating that there is yet a chance that Siddle may play instead of Starc, but most likely Siddle will play.
Team (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Marcus Harris, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Matthew Wade, 7 Tim Paine (capt & wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Players to watch:
Steve Smith has just returned to the number 1 spot in test cricket, much to the anger of Virat Kohli’s supporters, doing so just 2 tests after his ban for a year, which highlights just how good he is right now. He didn’t even lose the position after missing the 3rd test. If he does half as well as he did in the first 2 tests, then Australia should be favourites. There is a question that he may not be able to continue the form and also that he may not have fully recovered from his concussion. If he has recovered and is back in that form then England may struggle.
Ben Stokes is still yet to be knighted but surely he will be soon. New Zealand wants to name him New Zealander of the year too, and probably want him to go back to the place of his birth. He’s been loved for a long time but his perform since half-way through the World Cup has just been phenomenal. Need I say just how far behind England were in the 3rd test? England should have lost, just like in the World Cup final, but Ben Stokes held his nerve and got them home, even though Australia should have won by 1 run – 3 times! To do that so soon after England tied (won) the World Cup in spite of him given 4 overthrows after the ball hit his bat when New Zealand attempted a run out is incredible. Twice England won when by rights they should have lost. Twice the opposition were cheated. Twice Ben Stokes held his cool. It’s more than just talent. That’s heart right there.
Marnus Labuschagne has been something of a surprise packet since coming in as Steve Smith’s concussion replacement half-way through the 2nd test, and now he gets to play alongside Smith, meaning we have the top-scorer and the top-scorer who replaced him in the same team. He is being pushed up to number 3 too, which is a big deal.
Jofra Archer was incredible on debut and now he gets to show that it wasn’t a fluke. Rarely do we have someone do that well on debut that in his second test it already feels like he’s been there all his life, but that is the case here. He’s also an opponent who is hard to hate! His social media antics have been great too. If he fails here, his heroics will be quickly forgotten, but if he succeeds then he could quickly forge a long-standing reputation, and most importantly help England to win.
With two new umpires, hopefully we won’t be in that terrible situation where the decision to review in hope doesn’t end up costing the match because there were no reviews left. We want Ben Stokes to win with a 6, not because the umpires failed to notice a plumb LBW and there were no reviews left. We want to be talking about who won, not why they shouldn’t have.
With Steve Smith coming back, and Ollie Pope and James Anderson not coming in for England, Australia should be favourites, but the momentum is with England, and that momentum might just be enough to get them over the line, or maybe not quite. If Mitchell Starc does play, that could yet be a major factor too, especially as England’s new bowler Craig Overton looks unlikely to be anywhere near as impactful.
Five Fearless Predictions:
(1) Steve Smith will get another century, if not two.
(2) Marnus Labuschagne will do well.
(3) Ben Stokes will do well.
(4) Jofra Archer will do well.
(5) Australia will win.