Which way will the Ashes go now the series has been tied at 1-1? England will feel they have momentum after Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley to rescue the home side with a match-winning unbeaten 135. Stokes was ably assisted by Jack Leach who may only have scored one run in their dramatic 76-run partnership for the final wicket, but his time at the crease enabled Stokes to get on with hitting the vital runs England needed. Old Trafford plays host to the fourth Test with Australia hoping they can put the disappointment of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory behind them. Charlie Mullan takes a look at how both teams are shaping up for the Old Trafford Test.
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When Australia made their way to Old Trafford for the fourth and penultimate Test, they will have seen banners and messages reminding them of their painful defeat at Headingley nine days ago. Ben Stokes is a visible presence around the city following his sensational batting which has been labelled the best innings ever hit by an Englishman.
As Stokes said in several interviews following that historic victory, his efforts will have been for nothing if England do not go on and win back the Ashes, and with Stokes fit and healthy, England have a great chance of wrestling the urn away from the tourists who blew a chance of making sure the Ashes stayed in their possession following their inability to take the final wicket when Jack Leach joined Stokes at the crease with 73 runs still needed.
England will hope they don’t need another rescue mission from Stokes, but if their top order fail to score runs, again, they know the all-rounder is in the form of his life to turn the game around if need be. There is nobody better in the England side for handling the big occasion as Stokes proved to guide England to their World Cup success, and Australia know they are dealing with a man who has shown great patience when he has needed to and he when to dispatch the ball to all parts of the ground.
With the world watching, Stokes will once again relish playing on the greatest of stages and he is sure to be among the runs in Manchester. Don’t be surprised if he manages to score a half century in the first innings. Stokes and Australia’s run-machine Steve Smith are the only players in this series to have scored over 300 runs. Nobody else has come close to that. Stokes’ 327 runs accounts for 24.2% of the runs scored by England’s batsmen while Smith’s 378 is 25.77% of the runs contributed by Australian batsmen.
Smith missed the third Test because of concussion after taking a hit from England fast bowler Jofra Archer at Lord’s. Smith has hit 144, 142 and 92 in the three majestic innings he has played so far, and Australia need him to score runs in this Test also. In his absence, Marnus Labuschagne has deputised brilliantly with three half centuries in the three innings he has played. Labuschagne himself has received a number of blows to the head but has not allowed those to affect his batting. Clearly, he has learned how to bat at number four from Smith.
The battle between Smith and Jofra is certainly one of the many subplots of this Test which will no doubt add another thrilling chapter to what has already been a summer to remember with cricket of the highest order. Rain has been forecast for Manchester which plays into the hands of Australia who will retain the Ashes if the final two Tests end in draws. So when Smith gets to the crease, which has been a lot earlier than he would have liked in the previous Tests, expect the former captain to leave plenty of balls in his dramatic and unique fashion.
Smith, who has faced 587 balls for his 378 runs, won’t fancy facing Archer again after what happened at Lord’s, but the experienced Smith will have spent the last couple of weeks mentally preparing himself for Jofra’s deliveries. If Australia are to get anything from this game, Smith is going to have to be the main man once again, unless the likes of David Warner, Travis Head and Matthew Wade can take the pressure of him and score runs of their own. Those three players have scored a total of 390 runs in the series so far – 12 more than Smith, who has played three innings fewer.
Archer goes into the fourth Test with a longer break than he got between the second and third Tests which will help him and England too. He can expect to bowl the majority of overs for the home side and with his deliveries reaching 95mph, he will unsettle the Australian batsmen. Archer already has 13 wickets in the series from the two Tests he has played in and he is expected to pick up more wickets in Manchester this week.
He dismissed both Australia’s openers – David Warner and Marcus Harris – in the first innings in Leeds and without James Anderson and Chris Woakes in the side, he will be tasked with removing the openers again when taking the new ball alongside Stuart Broad, who has dismissed Warner the other four times in the series so far. After the drama we saw at Headingley, Old Trafford has a lot to live up to, but as this summer has already proved, expect the unexpected in the latest chapter of this brilliant summer of cricket.
England to win @ 7/5
Ben Stokes to be top England batsman in the first innings @ 4/1
Steve Smith to be top Australia batsman in the first innings @ 6/4
Jofra Archer to be top England bowler in the first innings @ 9/4