Australia looked shell-shocked when they came off the pitch at Headingley at the end of a remarkable 3rd Ashes Test – one that will go down in the annals of history as Big Ben’s Test with Stokes’ 135 not out, arguably, the greatest Test innings of all time.
The pragmatists will say Stokes ran out Jos Buttler at a crucial stage of the run chase and should have been given out lbw by umpire Joel Wilson within striking distance of victory. Had Wilson got that decision correct – or Tim Paine not ran out of referrals – then the Ashes would be lost and Stokes’ innings nothing more than glorious failure. As it stands the series is level at 1-1 with two Tests to go beginning at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
England look likely to shuffle their batting order in Manchester with Joe Denly likely to open the innings allowing the disappointing Jason Roy to bat four. Australia welcome back Steve Smith but who will make way for the former skipper?
I think Usman Khawaja will be promoted to open the innings with Marcus Harris making way. There are also reports suggesting Matthew Wade will make way for Mitchell Marsh in the Baggy Greens’ middle order although I would persevere with Wade who score a century at Edgbaston. There should be at least one Mitchell back in the Aussie side, however, with Starc likely to get the nod at the likely expense of James Pattinson.
England are 7/5 at BetVictor to take a 2-1 lead to the Oval with Australia 13/8 and the draw at 27/10. There is light rain now forecast for the opening day and more persistent rain forecast for Manchester on Friday. Australia will retain the Ashes with a win but how will Smith – who scored 23 against Derbyshire for the Tourists last week – cope with the pace of Jofra Archer?
As well as Stokes’ wonderful batting in Leeds it was his bowling in the Aussies second innings that helped set the win up. Joe Root seemed unwilling, rather than unable, to hand the ball to Chris Woakes and the latter would surely have made way for Jimmy Anderson had the latter been passed fit for his home Test.
I wonder if Stokes will be able to hit the heights of Leeds with bat or ball across the Pennines, but I have similar reservations about Smith. Will he take on Archer’s short ball? Will England, and Archer in particular, revert to the “Bodyline” tactics of Lords when Smith takes his place at the wicket? I doubt it but there is no doubt that “Smudger” was taken out of his comfort zone when he was met with a barrage of bouncers by Archer at Lords.
This has been a wonderful summer of cricket and let’s hope the weather does not intervene. England’s batting remains fragile but the GOAT Nathan Lyon disappointed at Headingley – although let’s not forget he would have won the series had the hapless Wilson correctly given Stokes out lbw or had he not cocked up a simple run out chance. If the left arm over bowler Starc plays, he will help Lyon bowl into the rough outside the right-handers off-stump especially in the second innings.
Australia should be 2-0 up but the Series hangs in the balance at 1-1. We will be told the momentum is with the hosts, but England rely too heavily on Stokes, Broad and Archer. Remember the Baggy Greens should have beaten England without their talisman Smith in Leeds.
Our 3rd Test prediction of an England win was correct, but it was as lucky as it was brilliant. Throughout the Series I have felt lady luck has been with the hosts – if the weather allows a result I feel it will be Australia who take a lead back to the capital next week unless Stokes can recapture the miracle of Leeds.
Stokes has found his optimum batting position at five and he again gets the vote to be the hosts top scorer. Archer is a short price – 9/4 at BetVictor – to take the most wickets in the Baggy Greens first innings but Old Trafford is considered the quickest wicket in the country and Aussie batters wanting to drive Archer in Manchester might need a car rather than a bat.
All square with two to go. The heart says England, but the head says Australia are the better side and should belatedly retain the Ashes in Manchester – weather permitting!