As the third Test match between Australia and England gets underway today, Tom Sizeland picks five talking points ahead of the showdown at Edgbaston.
The 2005 Ashes series was ‘that series’, and it is largely thanks to the Edgbaston Test, as Michael Kasprowicz’s glove, Geraint Jones’ catch and Billy Bowden’s crooked finger combined to conclude one of the most memorable finishes in Ashes history. Ian Bell and Michael Clarke are the only ones remaining from that spectacular culmination in Birmingham, yet they find themselves under more pressure than any other batsman in their respective sides.
Bell has averaged 22.40 over the past year. On his day he is a class act, but it might well be his last chance in a career spanning 113 matches, to prove that class is permanent and form is temporary. There’s nowhere to hide for Australian skipper Clarke either, who has passed fifty just once in his last 14 innings.
RESHUFFLING THE PACK
Gary Ballance’s axing from the England side was a big call, not only because it proves there are uncertainties within the lineup (which the Australians feast on with vigour), but because his replacement Jonny Bairstow doesn’t fit the same mould. Bairstow is not a No 3, so Bell has been handed the responsibility in the face of immense pressure, while Joe Root will play at 4, which is where he should probably play anyway – it will allow him to command even more influence than he already does, without changing his role as a middle-order batsman.
Bairstow is a confidence player, and if he can get on top of the bowlers early on it will settle the nerves. England need runs from him at No 5, and he’ll be required to make an immediate impact, especially if Adam Lyth and Bell continue their lean run.
England have fallen into the unfortunate trap of a lose-lose situation regarding the state of their pitches. Rumours have surfaced that director of cricket Andrew Strauss requested slower pitches to negate the threat of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, but the former England skipper was quick to deny these mutterings.
Coach Trevor Bayliss was forced to have his say on the issue, stating ‘the flatter the wicket is, and the slower the wicket is, it actually plays into the Australians’ hands.’ This, of course, was music to the Mitchells’ ears. ‘We’ll be licking our lips. Don’t worry,’ Starc said. ‘They’re not really sure what they want to do now.’ The indecisiveness over the preparation of the pitch has played right into Australia’s hands.
Rogers has been somewhat of a revelation in the series. He wasn’t talked up as a threat leading up to it, but the 37-year-old, a measured and vastly experienced accumulator of runs in domestic English cricket, has proven far more devastating than his maverick opening partner David Warner.
He’s second behind Steve Smith in the run charts so far, thanks to a best Test score of 173, amongst a run of eight knocks of 50 or more in 10 innings. That should have been nine, if he wasn’t forced to walk off the Lord’s pitch on 49 due to dizziness. He was struck on the helmet by James Anderson in the first innings, but it was revealed to be an inner ear problem rather than concussion. He’s set to play, and you can guarantee that the English will target him with plenty of short stuff. Whether he can counter that and continue his fine run or not will play a big role.
BROAD v JOHNSON
Both Stuart Broad and Johnson can join an elite club of players in this match, as they look to join the 11 Test cricketers who have scored 2000 runs and taken 300 wickets. Broad is four wickets short, while Johnson is one run and one wicket shy. That will be unlikely to cross their minds at any stage however, as they look to build on their form.
Johnson was back to his best at Lord’s with some terrifying spells of short, quick bowling, but Broad went about his business fairly effectively too, clocking some decent speeds and taking four wickets in the first innings. Clarke is all too aware of his threat, having lost his wicket to him 10 times in 19 Ashes Tests. James Anderson went wicketless at Lord’s for the first time in 59 Tests. England need him to fire as Broad has been doing. Slow pitch or not.