At the end of Headingley’s humdinger, the cricketing fans were left gasping for air. It a was Test match for ages and especially for Ben Stokes who single-handedly kept the Ashes hopes alive for the Brits. Slowly the series is getting to a point where every moment will be inscribed in the history books. Till now the tournament has lived up to its billing and it is perfectly set for a thrilling climax. On that note, the next chapter will unfold in Manchester where both the teams will want to script a memorable story of their own.
The Three Lions have managed to keep the urn away from the Australian pocket. Though they pulled off a heist a week ago they have a lot of thinking to do going into the penultimate game. Mainly their top-order batsmen have to take responsibility against the fiery pace attack of the visitors. Even the fielding standards need tinkering as they have regularly dropped catches at the slip cordon. They have to win at least one of the remaining games to lay their hands on the trophy.
Apart from a couple of lousy sessions, Kangaroos have played consistent cricket throughout the series. Most of the players have executed their skills according to the needs of the team. The batting has been vulnerable against the new-ball but they have put up decent totals on the scoreboard and the bowlers have also done their part. Now after a gut-wrenching loss, they will be determined with the return of their star batsman, Steve Smith who has continued his dream run in red-ball cricket.
Rory Burns will have a new opening partner in the form of Joe Denly who has shown good mental fortitude in the previous games. It is time for Joe Root to anchor the batting line-up as he has frequently played loose shots early in the innings. Jason Roy will be pushed to the middle-order but he needs to figure out a strategy in the classic format. After playing the best innings of his professional career Ben Stokes will be on cloud nine.
Till now Jos Buttler has been tentative in his batting stay so he will be trying to rectify his past mistakes. Jonny Bairstow has been excellent with his glovework but he has failed to make notable contributions with the bat. Chris Woakes has been efficient with his trade but he might be rested as he has been playing for a long time. Suddenly the greenhorn Jofra Archer has become the leader of the wolf pack and he has a faithful ally in the form of Stuart Broad.
Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (C), Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow (WK), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes/Sam Curran, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer.
David Warner is yet to find his rhythm in the series and his teammate Marcus Harris will have to be more cautious after getting a good start. After 3 consecutive half-centuries, Marnus Labuschagne rightly deserves his place in the playing XI. It will be a test for Steve Smith after being ruffled by the bouncer barrage. Travis Head has been unable to stamp his authority but he has been gritty against hostile fast-bowling.
After a ton in the first game, Matthew Wade has been slightly off-color but he is likely to retain his place in the side. Tim Paine has been clumsy behind the stumps and he quickly needs some runs to boost his confidence. Josh Hazlewood was impeccable in his return Test and he will accompany Pat Cummins in the fast- bowling department. If the team is going to opt for speed rather than control then Mitchell Starc might come into the side. Again Nathan Lyon will be trusted with the spin duties.
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (C & WK ), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc/Peter Siddle, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
The focus will be on
Stuart Broad (England)
Though England lost the services of their greatest red-ball star, James Anderson at the start of the series their bowling has fared reasonably well. They have been able to pick up wickets at regular intervals and some of the credit should go to Stuart Broad. As usual, the speedster has been bowling with great vigor and has already scalped 14 wickets in the series. His experience will be a key factor in the next couple of weeks when there will be enormous pressure on Brits.
Marnus Labuschagne (Australia)
The right-hander has impressed everybody with his temperament. Even when he was hit with fierce bouncers on his head he carried on his batting with great composure. Marnus Labuschagne has been a find for the Australian team in this Ashes. The youngster has all the attributes to become a batting mainstay for the Kangaroos. He is likely to bat at No.3 position in the Old Trafford game because of his solid defensive technique.
Head to Head
Matches played – 333 l Australia won – 135 I England won – 107 I Draw – 91
105 – Batting average recorded by Joe Root in Tests at Old Trafford.
17 – Number of years passed since England lost a Test match at Manchester.
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