England and Australia head into their fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge on Thursday with the illustrious urn on the line. The hosts are one victory away from recapturing it, while the tourists are out to level the series going into the final Test. Tom Sizeland discusses what’s required to seal victory.
1. Play with 11 men
I’m pointing out the obvious, right? Michael Clarke will beg to differ. The Australian skipper revealed after their eight-wicket defeat that the No 4 batsman in the lineup hasn’t pitched up, and they are playing with 10 men. He was talking about himself – a man who averages 50 after 113 Tests, but averages 18.80 in this series; without a score of 50 or more in his last 10 innings. He hinted at moving down one in the order, and while it will be a massive psychological victory for England, it will alleviate some of the pressure on Clarke, and allow a versatile player like Shaun Marsh to step in.
2. Capitalise on England’s inconsistency
England’s win-loss merry-go-round this season leaves the hosts vulnerable. It was only two weeks ago that Australia beat their opponents by 405 runs, as Johnson was able to destroy the English top-order and Steve Smith pillaged the wicketless James Anderson to all corners. Anderson won’t be playing in this match, so the Baggy Greens need to capitalise on some good fortune, and the likes of Smith and Johnson need to hit their straps as they did at Lord’s.
3. Have faith in their players
The decision to leave Brad Haddin out of the third Test didn’t bode well with old friend Clarke, or even coach Darren Lehmann, who admitted it was the toughest decision of his life. They need to move on now, and acknowledge the fact that his replacement Peter Nevill has stepped up to international cricket with relative ease. Reports are also circulating that Peter Siddle might come in for Josh Hazlewood. While Hazlewood didn’t pitch the ball in the right areas in the previous encounter, you have to back your leading wicket-taker in the series. Mitchells Johnson and Starc have also been inconsistent, so to drop Hazlewood would be the wrong call. They have to back the players who deserve to be there.
It was almost a lose-lose situation when England went 2-1 up at Edgbaston. Lose and you’ll be labelled consistently poor – win and you’ll be labelled inconsistent. But even skipper Alastair Cook doesn’t mind the situation, admitting that if their form stays true they will end up winning the Ashes 3-2 anyway. They would, of course, prefer to be consistently good, but it’s going to take some consistent performances from the individuals to get there, as they have relied far too much on certain players to win their matches. When Anderson and Joe Root don’t fire, they usually end up in trouble. They have some serious talent in Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, but Stokes’ bowling average in the series reads 99.50, while Buttler’s batting average is 13.40. They need solid performances across the park.
2. Cope without Anderson
England’s worst fears were realised in Australia’s second innings at Edgbaston, when the ‘irreplaceable’ Anderson pulled up with a side strain, forcing him out of at least the fourth Test. He’s the leader of the bowling unit and one of the best seam bowlers in the world. He will be sorely missed. He’s not going to be around forever however – he’s 33. England need to make Anderson ‘replaceable’. Broad and Finn will likely open the bowling, and they have to find their lines from the outset. Mark Wood is set to recover from his injury in time, and he needs to show the selectors that he is a genuinely effective deliverer of pace and swing.
3. Establish their top-order
England’s top-order looked far more at peace with itself in the previous Test, as Ian Bell was given the chance to find some form at No 3, with Root moved up to 4. But it is still very much a work in progress. Cook is hitting the ball well but could do with some more runs, while this could be Adam Lyth’s final chance. I say this every time, but he keeps getting the nod, so with an average of 12 from six innings, this has to be his last chance. Bell was back to his best at No 3, but you can’t judge from one match. If runs are scored at the top, Root’s burden to perform will decrease, and Stokes will be allowed to play with the freedom that he should at 6.