‘Hopefully we can bat big to get a big lead’: England’s Sam Curran aims to finish Ashes on a high

THE OVAL — Sam Curran believes England are in a strong position to end the Ashes on a high after helping his side establish a lead of 78 and 10 second-innings wickets remaining.

“I think it’s huge,” said Curran, who is making his first appearance of the series. “It was great for Burns and Denly to get through the evening, and hopefully we can bat big to get a big lead.

“There’s a lot of rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump for the left-arm spinner Leachy [Jack Leach], and I’m sure it’s going to keep turning as the game goes on.

“It’s really dry and I think if we can bat for as long as possible and get a big lead we can put some pressure on them second innings.” Curran felt England had bowled well to dismiss Australia for just 225, 69 runs shy of England. “As a group it was pretty good,” Curran added. “Hopefully the sun will be shining again tomorrow and we can get some nice runs on the board.”

Sam Curran erupted across the Oval like a starburst with three wickets in the late afternoon
Sam Curran erupted across the Oval like a starburst with three wickets in the late afternoon (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty)

High hopes

Surrey swing bowler Curran is relishing finally making an appearance – at his home ground, no less – after being in the squad for the four previous Tests.

“Being in all the squads has helped me keep up the level of intensity,” Curran said. “I’ve not had many county games and it’s been quite hard going from the Test squad to T20.

“But leading up to this game I thought I was going to be involved and I upped my overs.”

‘If we can bat for as long as possible and get a big lead we can put some pressure on them in the second innings’

Sam Curran

Australia batsman Marnus Labuschagne said Australia still wanted to win the series outright despite their relatively poor performance.

“The intensity definitely has not dropped,” he said. “It’s hard to say that when our play on the field maybe reflects that. But we came to win the Ashes and we really want to do that. We don’t want to just retain the Ashes.”

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Ashes 2019: End of the road gets closer for Chris Woakes after he sent down 10 overs for 51 runs

THE OVAL — Chris Woakes may have taken the prized wicket of Steve Smith on an eventful second day of this Fifth Ashes Test, yet that cannot mask the overall performance of a bowler who looks like he is entering the final furlong of his England career.

The decision to drop the 30-year-old for the previous Test in favour of Craig Overton drew much criticism. After all, wouldn’t Woakes, who had bowled well in the opening two Tests, cause the Australians more trouble with his ability to swing the ball than a medium-pace, hit-the-deck merchant in Overton?

Yet perhaps the selectors were right all along to discard Woakes – though not in also overlooking Sam Curran at Old Trafford – given the way he shaped up. Out of rhythm and sending down far too many loose balls, Woakes looked badly out of sorts on a day where he sent down 10 overs for the cost of 51 runs. The delivery that did for Smith was unremarkable – a straight ball the latter-day Don Bradman clone remarkably missed. Woakes got lucky. Like someone who wins the jackpot on a Las Vegas slot machine on their first go after the previous player had put $500 into it, he cashed in on the fine work earlier in the session from Curran and Jofra Archer.

That pair are the future of this England Test team’s bowling attack, Archer’s second six-wicket haul of the series and Curran’s superb spell that put him on a hat-trick in the evening session lighting up this match. Woakes, with his terrible overseas record and chronic injury to his right knee, appears very much yesterday’s man.

‘Physically struggling’

Chris Woakes gave up 51 runs in just 10 overs in an expensive day
Chris Woakes gave up 51 runs in just 10 overs in an expensive day (Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty)

Despite the fact he is seven years younger than James Anderson and three the junior to Stuart Broad, Woakes just doesn’t fit into any England attack when both that pair, Mark Wood and Curran and Archer, too, are available.

One of the chief complaints about England’s attack on the last Ashes tour in 2017-18 was that the quartet of right-arm medium-fast bowlers in Woakes, Anderson, Broad and Overton was way too one-dimensional.

Woakes can be a brilliant bowler when the ball swings. But unless you’re in England or New Zealand, that rarely happens. That’s why his overseas bowling average is a staggering 61.77 and at home it’s 23.18.

Woakes is clearly physically struggling and not at the top of his game. And as good a servant as he has been over the years, now should be the time to cut the cord and look to others to move this Test team forward.

Archer gives England hope

Sam Curran erupted across the Oval like a starburst with three wickets in the late afternoon
Sam Curran erupted across the Oval like a starburst with three wickets in the late afternoon (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty)

Chief among them will be Archer and Curran. Quite how the selectors have overlooked Curran – a player who turned his debut series against India last summer – until now is anybody’s guess.

There also needs to be caution over Archer because as brilliant as his six wickets were, that he bowled 23.5 overs in a day to get them raises further fears over his workload.

This after all, is the 24-year-old’s first summer of international cricket and having already been forced to play through a side strain during the World Cup, England risk burning out their brightest talent.

The ends may justify the means in this particular Test if England go on to win. But as Woakes would no doubt testify, international cricket can be a slog so to write cheques your body can’t cash, especially at the start of your career, is a dangerous game.

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Ashes 2019: Electric Sam Curran helps Jofra Archer put England in the box seat

THE OVAL — Game on. Six of the best for Jofra Archer and a reminder of how infectious Sam Curran can be, his waspish medium pace a darting, giddy complement to the A-Man’s violent pace. Curran’s vibrant appeals, the leaping celebrations are tailor made for Friday afternoons, propelling us into the weekend with hope in our hearts and a smile on our faces, the anti Steve Smith if you like.

The latter observation is of course borne of respect for a batsman of unflinching conviction. It is not his fault the opposition struggle to get him out. Neither is it ours that crushing predictability melts enthusiasm quicker than snow in the Caribbean. Curran erupted across the Oval like a starburst with three wickets in the late afternoon to remind us of the quality that made him one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year in 2018.

Though he didn’t claim the scalp of Smith it is entirely possible that his contribution, ousting Matthew Wade, Tim Paine and Pat Cummins was disruptive enough to unsettle the adhesive one sufficiently to make his wicket available. Chris Woakes mopped him up by bowling the perfect delivery at a batsman who moves across his stumps, a ball full of length that kept helpfully low and smashed into the pads. Smith was gone for 80, his lowest score of the series but still the highest knock of the match.

As ever England had little trouble getting Smith to the crease. The first wicket went down with the score on five. No points for guessing who. The surprise was that Stuart Broad played no part, David Warner becoming the first of Jofra Archer’s haul. Archer struck again to end the interest of Marcus Harris with the score on 14, which served only to pair Australia’s most destructive duo.

Archer finds the bullseye again

Sam Curran celebrates dismissing Matthew Wade of Australia in explosive display
Sam Curran celebrates dismissing Matthew Wade of Australia in explosive display (Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty)

The sun out, not a cloud in the sky, Smith cracking balls to the boundary, barely a hint of a chance. At the other end Marnus Labuschagne, a kind of Smith lite, untroubled, unfussy, playing the percentages. What we had in this period of Australian ascendency was the English summer in microcosm.

The impression created with Smith at the wicket is one of certainty, contrasting sharply with the English experience. Form ten to 20 to 30 and on up the decimal ladder the landmarks come and go as a matter of course, Smith betraying not a hint of the jeopardy that appears to stalk the English cricketer.

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The new Cook? England have many problems but at least Rory Burns has solved one of them

It seems the only way to discomfit Smith, and Labuschagne for that matter, is to break them. Smith missed an innings and one Test after being battered by Jofra Archer. Labuschagne, who also took a lumpy blow to the head as Smith’s substitute at Lord’s, was whacked on the arm in the second session here from a rapier Archer delivery that led to the appearance of the medical staff. How he winced as the physio rotated his wrist, and afterwards as he wriggled his arm in an attempt to shake off the low grade throbbing pulsating through the tissues.

In Archer’s very next over Labuschagne would be gone, trapped lbw to one full and straight, the result perhaps of that very blow having backed ever deeper into his crease. Smith continued to accumulate. With his tenth 50 in a row against England we reached full Smith fatigue, the point where a boundary off his bat is such an accepted occurrence that fielders no longer move and the audience doesn’t bother to applaud. They have even stopped booing him for goodness sake.

Electric presence

The idea of Smith’s impregnability has taken root among the players also, which perhaps accounts for their surprise when a chance does come along. Root would snaffle the Smith top edge off Curran more often than not. Perhaps Ben Stokes encroached enough to slow his reaction a fraction. The ball went in and out of an outstretched mitt and Smith was still there on 66.

With Curran an electric presence and Archer steaming in to end the late rally of Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle the mistake would not prove overly costly. Though the catch claimed by Rory Burns to dismiss Siddle was of the leaping salmon variety, it condemned him and opening partner Joe Denly to 17 minutes at the end of day fending off pelters from Cummins and Josh Hazelwood.

Denly was dropped by Harris at fourth slip in the final over and survived a robust last ball lbw appeal to head into the third day with ten wickets in hand and a lead of 78, an advantage they would have happily taken at the start of play.

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The Ashes 2019: Jos Buttler’s late fireworks spare England’s blushes but Australia in control again

THE OVAL — Australia tried their best to make a series of it, wasting the toss by bowling and dropping Joe Root three times. Jos Buttler looked relieved when the circumstances had deteriorated sufficiently to provoke a late thrash. Successive sixes off Josh Hazelwood is a badge of honour of sorts, and Jack Leach is never dull viewing. But this was four days too early for comedy defiance and Buttler going full one-day mode.

Of course Australia could come out on day two and make a pig’s ear of it. Buttler might convert his second Test century. Steve Smith might forget where he is and slump to a 50. Then again events might unfold in accordance with what has come before leaving England again in the midden looking at another pasting.

The mistakes piled up by England’s batsmen during the first four Tests continued at The Oval, skipper Joe Root as culpable as any in attitude if not in the manner of his exit. In defence of his realm and his captaincy Root demanded that England learn quickly, that they absorb the lessons of a largely dispiriting summer in which they have been comfortably second best. His target is to be up and at ’em by the time the Ashes resume in Australia next winter. How about something a little more prosaic? How about winning the next match?

It is unlikely to be this one despite England making the best start to a contest this series. Australian captain Tim Paine, falling for the false promise of easy plunder under a grey lid, ignored cricket’s win-toss-bat-first convention to insert the opposition. Only three captains have won a Test match at this ground by inverting best practice. The move was described as a monster risk by ex England captain Michael Vaughan. Had he forgotten already the pattern of the series?

Familiar England woe unfolds

Australia’s Mitch Marsh celebrates getting Sam Curran out, the third of his four wickets
Australia’s Mitch Marsh celebrates getting Sam Curran out, the third of his four wickets (Photo: AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The first wicket fell at 27, Joe Denly edging Hazelwood to first slip. Denly could have gone earlier, nevertheless the partnership was the highest by any opening pair in this series, 15 better than the average of 11.9. England progressed to 103-1 before Burns and Stokes self-destructed with top-edged pull shots when well set and the sun warming their backs.

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The new Cook? England have many problems but at least Rory Burns has solved one of them

One way or another fate had identified Root as the man to gather the England effort together, to guide the team to a total worthy of a cracking wicket in friendly conditions. He passed Sir Len Hutton in the English pantheon and 7,000 Test runs to sit 12th in the all-time list and though he posted a 50 for the 45th time in his career, the real story for a batsmen considered to be among the world’s top four is number in the centuries column. With only 16 from 158 knocks, and none this series, it is beginning to look less like a top four than a top three and a half.

World no.1 Steve Smith has as many tons as fifties, 26, in 122 innings. India’s Virat Kohli has 25 centuries and 22 fifties from 135 innings, and in 130 walks to the crease New Zealand’s Kane Williams has returned 20 tons and 30 fifties. Root, with an average of 48.09, is the only one of the four to average fewer than 50.

Ashes unfolds

In one rum passage either side of lunch Root hung his chin out like a pub heavyweight with a death wish, inviting the finest new ball attack in world cricket to knock him cold. They went close, Pat Cummins seeing routine catches dropped in consecutive overs, as well as passing both edges of the bat, and Steve Smith decking a sharp chance off Peter Siddle in the first over after lunch.

If Cummins wasn’t whispering “karma” to himself when Siddle decked a dolly at fine leg when Root was on 24, he was when he bent back Root’s timbers shortly after tea with a snorter that came back sharply. Root had harvested 57. Better than it might have been but nowhere near what England required. Sometimes a bowler can be just too good. In Cummins’s case more often than not. Root was his 26th wicket in the series, the only bowler to pass 20 until Josh Hazelwood clipped Jofra Archer’s wings for the eighth wicket.

With the score on 226 there seemed little point in hanging about. That was Buttler’s reasoning anyway. Down went the pedal, the crowd went nuts and England added 45 at a run a minute to close on 271-8. Australia will resume with a new cherry, a night’s sleep behind them and England pretty much where they want them despite Buttler’s muscular flourish.

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The new Cook? England have many problems but at least Rory Burns has solved one of them

THE OVAL — Rory Burns won’t always win points for artistic merit but England can now be confident they have a Test opener who can hold his own against the very best.

For that’s exactly what Burns has done during this Ashes series, his doughty 47 on day one of this fifth Test at his home ground of The Oval further evidence he can be a long-term success where so many others have failed.

The manner of the 29-year-old’s dismissal on Thursday – caught top-edging a mistimed pull shot – was ugly. But what went before it, especially during a 76-run second-wicket stand with captain Joe Root, showed the substance of a player who is seemingly getting better at this level with every innings.

Burns may not have added to the three fifty-plus scores he has already made in this series – including that maiden century in the first Test at Edgbaston.

Yet his average so far against one of the best attacks in the world is 41.11. That would be an impressive figure in any series but even more so in this one, where opening batsmen have struggled so acutely.

The new Cook?

In terms of England’s other openers in this series, Jason Roy averaged 13, Joe Denly 28.50. The three men Australia have used at the top of the order have fared even worse, so much so that when you add together the series averages of David Warner (9.87), Cameron Bancroft (11) and Marcus Harris (11.50) it is still way less than Burns’ average.

Historically, too, Burns is having an exceptional series. If he scores seven runs or more in his second innings here he will have scored the most runs by an England opener in an Ashes series since Alastair Cook’s freakish return of 766 on the 2010-11 tour of Australia.

Indeed, Cook, England’s all-time leading runscorer, only had two better Ashes series than Burns is currently enjoying – that triumphant trip Down Under nine years ago and the last one in the winter of 2017-18, when he scored 376 overall.

Like Cook, Burns is a flinty, left-hander who grinds down the opposition. Like Cook, he is also picking up the habit of finding a way to score runs by whatever means necessary.

Quick turnaround

Read more: Ashes 2021-22: How new-look England could line up down under

Burns is just 12 Tests into his England career but he has grown during this Ashes summer. Coming into the series on the back of two single-figure score against Ireland, he was devoid of form and confidence and close to being dropped.

But the 133 he made in England’s first innings at Edgbaston has launched his career. That knock was ugly – Burns playing and missing more than 30 times. But he showed character and a mental toughness to fight through – another similarity with Cook. He has improved since, the awkward technique still there but the false shots fewer and the sweet ones – such as the cover drive off Peter Siddle shortly after lunch yesterday that saw him move onto 46 – more numerous now.

Indeed, in an Ashes series that has ultimately ended in failure for England, Burns has been a genuine bright spot.

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David Warner can get the monkey off his back after Stuart Broad battle with a big score at The Oval

As we now reflect on what has been a series dominated in the most part by superb individual performances, now might be a good time to look at a battle than has rumbled on for all four Tests without really ever deciding one of those games. The battle between David Warner and England’s senior fast bowler Stuart Broad.

When there’s a bowler that appears to have your measure in a series, it’s a difficult place to be as a top-order batter. I had it with both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel at different stages in my career with Australia and it can feel like a thankless task when things get as tough as they have for David Warner in this series.

When I was batting at my best, I walked out to the crease relaxed and calm. It felt almost like an extension of normal life. I just watched the ball and stayed focus and the runs would come.

When someone gives you a repeated problem to which you seemingly have no answer, that’s where you’re forced to work that bit harder to work out a way to get runs.

‘Stay true to himself’

David Warner looks to get his eye in in the nets at The Oval
David Warner looks to get his eye in in the nets at The Oval (Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty)

It forces you to question your technique and even your suitability to play at that level. I’m not sure if it’s harder to go through that early in your career or when you’ve got something behind you as David has, but it’s never welcome.

In that situation, batsmen start trying anything and everything to break the shackles and get free of feeling so venerable at the crease. We’ve seen David try to be aggressive at times in this series but we’ve also seen him try and soak up that pressure from Broad, all to no avail.

Thought processes get skewed and twisted out of shape and when you add in the additional media scrutiny on you in a series like this, it can be hard to get away from that hopeless feeling.

I don’t see any mileage in Australia looking to replace David at this stage and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he goes out and succeeds at The Oval now the Ashes have been retained. He has been and I’m sure will continue to be a key player in Test Matches for Australia for some time now.

Pressure and anxiety

When there’s a bowler like Stuart Broad that appears to have your measure in a series, it’s a difficult place to be as a top-order batter
When there’s a bowler like Stuart Broad that appears to have your measure in a series, it’s a difficult place to be as a top-order batter (Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty)

Despite that, no one is immune to that pressure and the anxiety that comes with a run of form like this. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wondering ‘how am I going to get out?’ instead of ‘how am I going to make my runs?’

The one thing I think David has to do is stay true to his method. He’s developed a great technique since first coming into the side which enables him to both attack and defend extremely effectively. He hasn’t just lost that overnight, but he needs to survive the first couple of overs just to have a chance to get that one shot away that might get him going again.

I think back to my early career with Western Australia where I endured the biggest rut of my professional career. After a couple of years in the side, I spent time analysing the players in the Australian Test team at the time and decided that if I was going to make it as a Test Cricketer, I had to be more aggressive.

I changed by entire game plan in order to try and mould myself into this aggressive imitation of what I thought the selectors wanted, to the detriment of my game and my results personally. The internal doubt caused by that battle of identities saw me dropped from my state team and sparked one of the more difficult times of my life.

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Questioning myself and my future, I decided I need to go back to what felt comfortable and natural to me. David must do the same at The Oval. The pressure players put on themselves often outweighs the pressure coming outside your own little bubble.

Again, I’ve been reminded of the 2009 Ashes where there were a lot of people who thought I should be dropped. You never like to hear that as a player, but at the same time it’s part of playing the game at that level.

I walked out in my next innings and thought to myself “You know what? Stuff it. If this is my last Test Match for Australia I’m just going to enjoy myself and soak this up”.

That in itself was a huge mental release – not heaping that extra weight of expectation on myself and just being present. Much harder than it sounds, as we’re seeing with David.

Time to rescue score

If I was him, I’d look back to the success he’s had since returning to the game after his year hiatus. He lit up the IPL and had a very strong World Cup over here in white ball cricket. In cricketing terms, that’s not that long ago.

As much as the colour of the ball and the conditions are different, he has to trust in the ability and inner strength which has carried him this far. Stuart Broad and the England quicks have bowled brilliantly to him, but he still has one more chance.

I’m sure David’s teammates are right behind him. Losing the respect of your peers is often the scariest part of being in the sort of trough David is in, and you can only really get that monkey off your back with a big score. Not many better places to do that than at The Oval!

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England’s ruthlessness with Jason Roy provides a warning shot to other players

England have wielded the axe following the defeat at Old Trafford that saw the dream of regaining the Ashes go up in smoke, with Jason Roy the sacrificial lamb following his horrendous series with the bat.

Roy’s fate was sealed by the shoulder injury to Ben Stokes that sees him selected for this final Test against Australia at The Oval as a specialist batsman. Stokes was put through his paces in the nets, bowling several deliveries but ultimately England decided the all-rounder was not fit enough to justify his place in the team as the fourth seamer.

It means a batsman had to make way for Sam Curran. The decision to ditch Roy was a no-brainer considering he was averaging 13.75 in the series. Starting out as an opener following a fine World Cup in the same position, Roy was moved down to No4 for the fourth Test in Manchester after consistently failing to deal with the new ball.

Despite a top-score of 31 in that match, it was not enough to save the Surrey batsman from being dropped at his home ground. “Jason has had an opportunity to come in and play Test cricket and it has not gone quite how he would have liked,” said captain Joe Root. “But I’m sure he will go away and work extremely hard and come again. That is what you expect of guys when they get left out. I’m sure he will have that attitude and want to try and prove a point and get himself back into the side.”

Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking Jason Roy for nine
Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking Jason Roy for nine (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty)

Long road back

Despite Root’s encouraging words, Roy faces a long road back and it appears likely his white-ball commitments mean he will never play enough red-ball cricket for Surrey to ever make a compelling case for a Test recall. Yet the ruthlessness England have shown in ditching Roy before the end of the series should provide a warning shot to several other players.

Craig Overton was also dropped for this final Test after being picked in favour of Chris Woakes for Manchester. That particular selection error has been corrected for this Test.

The decision to discard Roy also means everyone in the middle order moves up one position – so Stokes will bat at four, Jonny Bairstow five and Jos Buttler six.

While Stokes’ place is obviously safe, life appears less certain for both Bairstow and Buttler.

Joe Root believes individual performances let England down in this Ashes series (Photo: Reuters)

Warning shot for England

Indeed, other than opener Rory Burns, Root, Stokes, Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad, nobody’s place in this England Test team should be safe.

Buttler especially can count himself fortunate to remain given he has also performed poorly with the bat in this Ashes series, failing to score more than 41 and averaging just 16.25.

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He will likely be rested for the two Tests in New Zealand in November after a busy summer that also saw him play a key role in England’s World Cup win.

But the four-match series in South Africa starting on Boxing Day could prove the tipping point in Buttler’s England career – especially as there is a ready-made replacement at No6 in Ollie Pope.

Bairstow’s future

Bairstow, too, has underperformed in this series and the balance of this team for The Oval – with everyone shunted up a place – means the path will be clear once Stokes is fully fit and able to bowl again for Ben Foakes to come in at No7 and take the wicket-keeping gloves from Bairstow as he did so impressively when he was named man of the series in Sri Lanka last winter.

Bairstow needs runs at No5 in this Test and if he succeeds, it may well convince the selectors his Test future lies as a specialist batsman.

For Root and England, there is still a chance they can draw this series 2-2 with victory over the next five days. There hasn’t been a drawn Ashes since 1972 but there should be enough motivation within the England camp to try and buck that trend.

“You are playing for your country, that’s the fundamentals of it,” said Root. “However you motivate yourself whether it’s getting yourself on a winter tour or trying to get yourself a hundred or five-fer, I think it’s really important to harness that this week and take it forward.”

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The Oval weather forecast: Met Office predictions for the 5th Ashes Test in London

After the extraordinary heroics of Ben Stokes at Headingley, England came back down to earth at Old Trafford as Australia retained the Ashes with a comfortable victory.

It is the first time England haven’t won a home series against their oldest enemy in 18 years – but they can still claim a credible draw in the five-Test contest with a victory at The Oval this week.

As was perhaps inevitable with a series pushed towards the end of the summer by England’s victorious home World Cup, the English weather has played its part.

Indeed, rain eventually cost the hosts a chance of securing an early foothold in the series at Lord’s ensuring a tightly fought, low-scoring contest ended as a draw – as the action returns to London, here’s what’s forecast for the fifth Test.

Steve Smith struck 211 before being caught off the bowling of Joe Root on the second day of the 4th Ashes Test at Old Trafford
Steve Smith has been immovable and inspirational for Australia throughout the 2019 Ashes (Getty Images)

Day One – Thursday 12 September

According to the Met Office, the first day looks set to be blissfully uninterrupted, with a sunny morning giving way to overcast (but dry) conditions in the afternoon. Temperatures will climb to 22C in the mid-afternoon, and there is no more than a 10 per cent chance of rain at any point in the day.

Day Two – Friday 13 September

Although conditions are slightly cooler on day two, with a maximum temperature of around 20C, it looks set to be sunnier than Thursday, with next to no chance of rain.

Day Three – Saturday 14 September

It’s a similar story on Saturday, with no more than a five per cent chance of rainfall in any session and the prospect of clear, sunny conditions and temperatures up to 21C.

Day Four – Sunday 15 September

Things get even better for day four: again, the weather is forecast to be sunny throughout, with minimal prospect of rainfall, and it’s set to be the hottest day of the Test, with the mercury reaching 24C.

Day Five – Monday 16 September

If the action reaches a fifth day, conditions may take on a slightly more autumnal flavour. The temperature will slip down slightly to a high of 20C, and sun will be far scarcer – but there is still no more than a 10 per cent chance of rainfall throughout an overcast Monday.

Ben Stokes celebrates after hitting the winning runs for England at Headingley
England fans will be calling on Ben Stokes to produce more heroics at The Oval (Getty)

England and Australia teams for the 5th Test


  • Joe Root (c)
  • Jofra Archer
  • Jonny Bairstow (wk)
  • Stuart Broad
  • Rory Burns
  • Jos Buttler
  • Sam Curran
  • Joe Denly
  • Jack Leach
  • Ben Stokes
  • Chris Woakes

Australia (full squad)

  • Tim Paine (c, wk)
  • Pat Cummins
  • Travis Head
  • Cameron Bancroft
  • Marcus Harris
  • Josh Hazlewood
  • Usman Khawaja
  • Marnus Labuschagne
  • Nathan Lyon
  • Mitchell Marsh
  • Michael Neser
  • James Pattinson
  • Peter Siddle
  • Steve Smith
  • Mitchell Starc
  • Matthew Wade
  • David Warner

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Ashes 2021-22: How new-look England could line up down under

It is just over two years until England travel to Australia for the next Ashes series. But what will their team look like for the first Test at the Gabba in November 2021?

It is difficult to predict as there are so many variables to consider – including who the new coach will be once Trevor Bayliss departs at the end of this current series.

However, we can have an educated guess about the personnel who may be tasked with winning back the urn on that trip.

Everything being equal – and injuries aside – it looks certain England will have Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer in the XI. Root probably will still be captain despite two fruitless Ashes series so far leading the team, including that 4-0 hammering in the winter of 2017-18. Stokes, England’s all-round talisman, will also be there, while Archer’s impressive first summer on the international scene will make him the probable leader of the attack on that tour.

By then Root should be batting back at his preferred position of No 4. The three men above him in the order is a tough one to predict but Rory Burns, who has had an impressive Ashes summer, would likely remain as opener alongside perhaps Kent’s Zak Crawley. Joe Denly will be 35 by then and almost certainly out of the team. Crawley, 21, is highly-rated by England and it would be hoped either he or Dominic Sibley, the leading opener in county cricket this summer, will be established by 2021.

Bairstow promoted, Roy and Buttler axed

Jonny Bairstow, shorn of the wicket-keeping gloves, would get my vote at No 3, especially as he scored a century from that position in the final Test of last winter’s tour of Sri Lanka in Colombo. Stokes would be at five in the order with Ollie Pope at No 6. I think under the new regime – or by 2021 at least – it will be accepted that Jason Roy and Jos Buttler are not Test-class batsmen.

Pope has already played two Tests and was on the brink of a call-up for this current series. At six he can prove why he is regarded as the best young batsmen in England.

Ben Foakes, the best keeper in the country and a man who scored a century on his Test debut in Sri Lanka last year, then gets the gloves at No 7.

With James Anderson and Stuart Broad likely to have retired by the next Ashes, Archer will lead the bowling attack. Alongside him will be Mark Wood – if he can stay fit – and Olly Stone. That would offer England three men who can bowl in excess of 90 miles per hour – crucial to success on flat Australian pitches. Jack Leach, too, gets in as the specialist spinner.

Chris Woakes, who will be 32 by 2021, Sam Curran, Lancashire’s young quick Saqib Mahmood and Somerset’s Jamie Overton – quicker than twin brother Craig – are bowlers who could also be in the squad.

But who knows who else might force their way in by the time ­England embark on that next Ashes tour?

Stocks’s England XI for Ashes 2021-22

Rory Burns

Zak Crawley

Jonny Bairstow

Joe Root (c)

Ben Stokes

Ollie Pope

Ben Foakes (wk)

Jofra Archer

Jack Leach

Mark Wood

Olly Stone

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James Anderson: ‘Flat, Australia-friendly pitches cost England the Ashes’

THE OVAL — James Anderson has criticised the flat pitches during this summer’s Ashes series, insisting they have played into Australia’s hands and prompting him to ask: “Why don’t we use home advantage?”

England’s all-time leading wicket-taker bowled just four overs of the opening Test in this summer’s Ashes after being struck down with a calf injury. Australia, who won the last series Down Under, have gone on to retain the urn after taking a 2-1 lead ahead of this week’s final Test at the Oval.

But Anderson, 37, insists that unlike the 2015 home Ashes, when England were assisted by green, seam-friendly surfaces and won 3-2, Joe Root’s team have been let down by the groundsmen this summer.

‘It doesn’t seem right’

Asked if he thought the pitches had given enough assistance to ­England during the series, Anderson replied: “Not really if we’re being brutally honest. I think they’ve probably suited Australia more than us. I would have liked to have seen a bit more grass but that’s the nature of the game here.

“When you’re selling out – like Lancashire selling out five days of Test cricket – it’s hard not to produce a flat deck but that’s one of the frustrations from a player’s point of view. We go to Australia and get pitches that suit them. They come over here and get pitches that suit them. It doesn’t seem quite right.

“We as a country or cricket team, cricket board, don’t use home advantage enough. As I said when you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team.”

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James Anderson considers going vegan to prolong his England career to 40

James Anderson has admitted he will consider going vegan in an attempt to extend his England career into his late thirties.

Anderson, 37, has missed almost all of the current Ashes series with the calf injury he sustained in the opening Test against Australia at Edgbaston last month.

England’s all-time leading wicket-taker this week insisted he wants to carry on playing until the age of 40.

And he is investigating a number of ways of keeping his body in shape to do just that – including moving to an exclusively plant-based diet.

Siddle’s banana inspiration

Australia bowler Peter Siddle, who famously eats up to 20 bananas a day, is cricket’s most prominent vegan.

But a number of other sports stars have attributed a plant-based diet to higher levels of performance, including American football quarter-back Tom Brady, who is still playing for New England Patriots at the age of 42.

Formula One star Lewis Hamilton and Tennessee Titans NFL team also swear by a vegan diet and both are featured in a new documentary – The Game Changers – that chronicles the rise in popularity of plant-based eating among athletes.

‘My wife’s not keen#

Now Anderson, once described as having “the worst diet of any professional athlete I know” by former team-mate Graeme Swann, is considering following the trend.

“I actually have chatted it through with my wife –she’s not keen,” he said. “There’s a documentary coming out, The Game Changers. You might be interested in this, it’s about Lewis Hamilton. I’m open-minded. I’ll give anything a go if it prolongs my career.

“I’m going to try and investigate every possible avenue of what I need to do at my age to keep myself in good shape. I feel as fit as I ever have. It’s just the calf keeps twanging. I’ll look at how other sportspeople have done it throughout their careers to keep going into their late 30s.

“I’ll see whether there’s anything specific I can do – diet, gym programme, supplements, whatever it might be – because I’ve still got a real hunger and desire to play cricket.

“I still feel like I can be the best bowler in the world. As long as I’ve got that mentality I’m going to try to find every possible thing to help me stay fit.”

‘Ashes a big disappointment’

Anderson is refusing to put a time-frame on his return but the tour of New Zealand, which ends with two Tests in late November, is on his radar. “Yes, that would be great if I’m fit for that,” he said. “If not, then South Africa would be next on the list. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

As for how he has felt watching England, 2-1 down ahead of this week’s final Test at The Oval, fail to regain the Ashes in his absence, Anderson said: “It’s just a big disappointment, the whole thing for me. You can beat yourself up – if I was playing it might have been a different outcome? But if you dwell on that, you send yourself crazy, so I’m going to try and look to the future.”

James Anderson was speaking on behalf of ‘The Test Experts’ Specsavers, Official Test Partner of the England cricket team

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Ashes 2019: Steve Smith’s quality told in the end and made Australia worthy winners against England

After another amazing Test match, Australia can finally relax having crept over the line in another game that’s gone down to the last hour. How much of this can we take?

I thought prior to the fifth day that England pulling off another unlikely result was a real long shot, but they gave it a fair shake. Every player that came in on day five put a high price on their wicket, but ultimately they couldn’t compete with the class of the Australian bowling attack.

On balance, Australia deserve their win. Few would deny that they’ve played the better cricket overall over the course of the series. Tim Paine deserves a lot of credit for getting this team over the line in England for the first time since 2001, with some of the more recent tours having been tough rides for the Aussies.

It’s hard to look past the impact of one man when it comes to the difference between the two sides, as much as that doesn’t tell the whole story. Batsmen on both sides have struggled throughout the series, yet Steve Smith’s been on a different plane entirely.

Titanic contribution from Smith

Steve’s averaged 134 and looked increasingly determined and unflustered as the series has gone on. Marnus Labuschagne and Steve have been the standouts in that Aussie line-up, making an almost lone stand against England’s ever-impressive bowlers.

The comparisons between Smith and the likes of Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden are entirely fair. Steve has already cemented his place as a great of Australian cricket, but I must admit I have had fears for the longevity of his success in the past. I keep thinking to myself: “This bloke has to have a lull in form soon!” It just hasn’t come.

Like Ponting and Hayden, Steve does things his own way. I heard Ricky joking on TV about how much shadow batting Steve does in the field and in his hotel room – the guy lives for batting. It’s that dedication to his task and his art which enables him to keep on going and going. I loved batting and loved the game – but I wouldn’t put myself in the same bracket as those three.

England’s task has been made so much harder by Steve’s ability to manipulate the field. I don’t think they’ve bowled badly at him at all, but he’s dealt with their best balls so effectively they’ve had to move to other plans. He was ruffled up at Lord’s, but other than that he’s been unflappable.

His batting aside, it’s also been a landmark series for the Australian quicks. Our change bowlers have been able to create more sustained pressure in comparison to England’s. The home side have often looked a Stuart Broad or a Jimmy Anderson short, giving the batsmen that slight release of pressure that Australia simply haven’t afforded England.

The Aussies have been relentless with the ball, rotating their quicks throughout the series and building their plans around drying the England batsmen up. This is the best depth of quality Australia have enjoyed in terms of their fast bowlers in quite some time. To think that Josh Hazlewood didn’t play at Edgbaston and Mitchell Starc didn’t play for the first three Tests is pretty staggering.

Read more: Jason Roy’s Test career is surely on the line at the Oval

With the age these guys are, this battery of fast bowlers looks likely to terrify a few more teams in the years to come. Where’s the respite? I look on as a spectator now and wonder where I’d be looking to score against these blokes.

In the context of this series, I can’t help but think that Anderson would have made a tangible difference to this series for the home side. Injuries happen, that’s cricket and it’s impossible for someone to stay fit for their entire career. If Anderson had played, however, would England have discovered Jofra Archer when they did? Would they have been brave enough to drop a senior bowler for Archer to come in?

England need to look after Archer

Jofra Archer bowls as Smith looks on in the background
Jofra Archer bowls as Smith looks on in the background (Getty Images)

Jofra’s an infant when it comes to Test cricket, but he’s shown everyone why he’s a player worth investing in from England’s point of view. Much as Australia have had to do with Pat Cummins since his debut in 2011, England will need to look after Jofra to ensure he flourishes as Cummins is doing now.

Cummins’ success and that of some Australian quicks in general is far from being an accident.

Read more: Joe Root insists he is right man to lead England as Ashes defeat raises questions over captaincy

Preparation for this tour has been so thorough from Australia’s perspective. I read one of Mitchell Johnson’s columns for i before coming over where he spoke about the learning curve between his first and second tours to England. You have to crack the lengths to bowl and work out how to apply pressure to batsmen for long periods of time over here, something the Aussie quicks have managed slightly better than England in this series.

They have strangled the life out of England’s aggressive middle order. There was so much focus on the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali prior to the series, and I feared the worst if those guys could get in against a tiring attack with the chance to score quickly.

Burns is a diamond in the rough

I’ve been disappointed that they haven’t been able to stand up more often for their team, with all three making a minimal impact on a series which was crying out for another English hero besides Ben Stokes. On the flip side, Rory Burns has been something of a surprise package for me. In a series where opening batsmen have endured a torrid time, he’s stood up to the scrutiny about his technique and the new ball barrage from Australia. He’s looked more and more assured in his own methods as the series has worn on and I think England have found a real diamond in the rough.

Burns looks like a player that England can invest in when it comes to the next few years of Test cricket. They desperately need to find some identity as a Test team, picking players with the character and desire to succeed in that format.

Read more: Batting, bowling and Steve Smith: Why Australia retained the Ashes

Being a successful team across all formats is incredibly tough in the modern era. England have put so much into their white-ball cricket, which has paid off for them in a big way. They can also take solace in the cyclical nature of the issues they face now. After 2006, Australia lost three of their truly great players just as I entered the fold which sparked a tough period for us.

Being one of the players tasked with rebuilding that team and pushing on in the game really fuelled my desire to improve myself as an individual. England will hope that the loss of the likes of Alastair Cook and the likelihood of losing James Anderson and Stuart Broad before too long will have the same kind of galvanising effect on their next generation.

Mike Hussey was speaking to freelance cricket journalist James Alder

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Geoffrey Boycott knighted in Theresa May’s resignation honours list despite domestic abuse conviction

Theresa May has awarded a knighthood to her favourite cricketer, Geoffrey Boycott, after he was overlooked for an honour for years because of his controversial past.

Embattled by leadership challenges last year, the former prime minister compared her refusal to quit over Brexit to the ex-Yorkshire and England player’s stubborn batting style and dogged determination not to get out.

But Boycott’s honour, for services to sport, is likely to provoke criticism because the 78-year-old was convicted in France 20 years ago of hitting his then girlfriend, Margaret Moore.

He has always denied wrongdoing but the conviction effectively blocked him receiving an award while his contemporaries were honoured.

Last year, as Tory MPs mobilised against her, Mrs May said: “Can I just say that you might recall from previous comments I have made about cricket that one of my cricket heroes was always Geoffrey Boycott. And what did you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”

Assault denial

Boycott, who has always denied the assault, was fined £5,000 and given a three-month suspended prison sentence over the attack.

Computer consultant Mrs Moore suffered bruising to her forehead and blackened eyes in the assault at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes in October 1996.

Boycott has accused her of putting a “stain on my name” and maintained her injuries were sustained through an accidental slip and fall.

But public prosecutor Jean-Yves Duval rejected Boycott‘s claims, saying the injuries were “absolutely incompatible” with an accident and that the cricketer’s lawyer Jean-Luc Cardona did not stand up to examination.

Andrew Strauss also knighted

The former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss is also knighted for services to sport.

Strauss, 42, set up a charity in the name of his late wife, the Ruth Strauss Foundation, and in last month’s second Ashes Test at Lord’s, staff and fans wore red in her memory. Ms Strauss died of a rare form of lung cancer last year.

Jeremy Corbyn has nominated three Labour peers, including Christine Blower, a former leader of the National Union of Teachers.

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Batting, bowling… and Steve Smith: Why Australia retained the Ashes

So the same squad that failed in Manchester remains intact for the Oval. The only option England have is to shuffle the chairs on the deck of a ship listing badly.

Here’s why:

The ball

It is the same for both sides, of course, but in world No 1 batsman Steve Smith and a full complement of world-class quicks, led by world No 1 Pat Cummins, at their disposal, Australia are simply better equipped to deal with the shift from white ball to red ball cricket.

The fundamental reason why the world champions in one form of the game have been flayed in the longer format stems from the behaviour of the ball combined with fielding restrictions that protect the batsman by effectively reducing the number of ways he might get out.

Thus in the one-day format the game favours batting, or more accurately a particular kind of batting. The white Kookaburra ball is designed to deliver runs not take wickets. With a much smaller seam the ball does not have the same evil properties that make the red Duke’s ball such a menace. A batsman can trust the line and trajectory of the white ball and simply hit through it. The Duke’s is a missile with a much prouder seem that swings and seams.

So when Jason Roy and England’s other big hitters plant that front foot and throw their hands out in front of the body they connect more often than not with the white ball. And if they do catch the edge, the chances are there won’t be a fully formed slip cordon to pouch it since fielding sides are more concerned with protecting boundaries. Not so in the red ball game where the ball is much more likely to take the edge or pass through the cavernous gap between bat and pad and their are five blokes behind the wicket with buckets for hands.

England’s batting

This really has been a dreadful series for Jason Roy (Getty Images)

Roy is one of many exemplars of the white- ball game caught in the same trap. Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, pillars of England’s famed one-day middle order, are in the same category. Roy and Buttler are simply not conditioned or versed in stringing sessions together, of batting for long periods. They are repeatedly out in Test cricket to the expansive shots that reward them when facing a white ball.

The problem is exacerbated by learning on the job. Roy is claimed by an awful conceptual muddle. In trying so hard to assume the posture of a textbook Test batsman he is unable to bring enough of his instinctive game to the piece. It may be time in the middle away from the scrutiny of the television cameras will cure this, a period where his every tic and vice is not being picked apart by former pros made grumpy by English failings.

The Anderson problem

Jofra Archer has bowled well but there has been too much pressure on him and Stuart Broad (Getty Images)

Ultimately England have never recovered the loss of James Anderson after just four overs of the first Test at Edgbaston. You have to imagine Steve Smith would not have found it quite so straightforward against a bowler with Anderson’s ability to hit the killer length and move the ball both ways.

Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad can’t bowl every ball. In Manchester, England were effectively two bowlers down with the selection of Jack Leach and Craig Overton, notwithstanding their contributions at the crease.

Steve Smith

Steve Smith has hit a phenomenal 671 runs in this Ashes series (Getty Images)

Take Steve Smith out of it, four of the leading five run scorers in this series are English.That anomaly tells us that neither team has a reliable batting unit. Smith has scored almost 700 runs in five innings. His lowest score is 82, and that was a wicket surrendered in a run chase.

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Jason Roy is averaging 13.75 in this Ashes series – his Test career is on the line at the Oval

OLD TRAFFORD — Despite the fight, England left Manchester defeated, with the Ashes gone and several players wondering what the future holds in terms of their Test careers.

Among those, Jason Roy would probably have been the most pensive having failed again to convince he has what it takes to succeed at Test level despite being moved down the order to No4 after a harrowing four-match baptism as an opener.

Winning often masks a multitude of sins – just look at the inaction from England’s selectors after they burgled the third Test of this series at Headingley last month.

Yet that’s nothing new. Ian Bell avoided the axe in the afterglow of England’s memorable 2005 Ashes win despite only averaging 17 with the bat in that series.

No hiding place

However, in the aftermath of defeat, there is no hiding place for those who are underperforming. And to deny Roy is doing that is to deny cold, hard reality.

As brilliant as the Surrey batsman is in one-day cricket, a format where he averages 42.79 and is among the best openers in the world, he has struggled to transfer that form across to Test cricket.

A different coloured ball that moves a lot more, a lack of fielding restrictions, pitches that aren’t routinely as flat as the M25 and deteriorate over five days all contribute to the far greater challenge of batting in Test cricket.

Roy has struggled, even if his demotion to the middle order did see him make his highest score of the series on the final day of this match. The fact that was 31 tells you all you need to know about his current form.

Defence lets him down

After four Tests – albeit against a fine attack – he is averaging 13.75 with the bat. To put that into context, that is less then every England player other than Stuart Broad averaged during last summer’s five-Test series against India. This really has been a dreadful series for Roy.

Yet the most worrying thing is that he looks ill-equipped technique-wise to deal with high-calibre Test bowling. More than anything it is his defence, that lets Roy down.

On the final day of this fourth Test he was bowled through the gate by the excellent Pat Cummins. It was the fifth time in 10 innings he has been bowled so far in his Test career – a 50 per cent hit rate. Way too high.

Something special needed

The good news for Roy is he will have home comforts for the final Test of the series at The Oval this week. At 29, it is surely now or never for a player who will be fighting for his very future as a Test cricketer in that match.

If he fails again, he is destined to join Australia’s Aaron Finch (27.80 average from five matches) and Alex Hales (27.28 from 11) as limited-overs titans who could not make it as Test batsmen.

It will take something special this week from Roy – average 18.70 after five Tests – to convince the doubters, and the selectors, he can succeed where that pair failed.

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Joe Root insists he is right man to lead England as Ashes defeat raises questions over captaincy

OLD TRAFFORD — Joe Root insists he is still the best man to lead England’s Test team despite the defeat at Old Trafford that saw Australia retain the Ashes with a match to spare.

An emotional Root was asked about his position as captain in the aftermath of the 185-run loss that saw England go 2-1 down in the series ahead of this week’s final Test at The Oval.

It means Australia, who won the 2017-18 Ashes 4-0 at home, will leave the UK with the urn for the first time in 18 years after successive defeats in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2015.

England can at least deny Tim Paine’s team the prize of Australia’s first away Ashes series triumph since 2001 if they win the final Test, which starts on Thursday.

But with the urn gone for England, the questions about where it all went wrong and Root’s future have started.

‘It hurts’

Asked if he still felt he could take this team forward, Root said: “Definitely yes. I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard at doing my best at that. That is in my control and I have to make sure I keep getting this team in the best shape to win as many games as possible.

“Whenever you lose a series it hurts. I have to take that on the chin. You have to look at areas you want to get better at both in yourself and as a team.

“Importantly I have to look at next week. We have an important Test match against Australia. We have to make sure we finish this summer strong. We do not want to lose this Ashes series.

“It is still very raw. We have still got stuff to play for in this series so we have to make sure that is the full focus and make sure we give one last push in a big summer for us and come away with a win.”

‘Individual performances cost us’

After the miracle of Headingley, when Ben Stokes hit an unbeaten 135 to get England over the line in a dramatic one-wicket win, the fight showed by Root’s team on the final day in Manchester, when they took this Test down to the final 13.3 overs, offered hope of another shock result.

“You turn up to an Ashes series you put everything you can into it,” said Root. “You leave everything out not he field. Everyone has done that. At times we have not been at our absolute best. We have played a very good side that has performed well in these conditions. Look at the Test matches and there have been times when one guy has made a difference and that has probably cost us the urn this time around.”

That one man is Steve Smith whose double hundred and then second-innings 82 at Old Trafford took his runs tally to 671 in just three Tests in his first series since returning from a year-long ball-tampering ban.

Australia captain Tim Paine said: “Steve is the best player I have ever seen. He showed that again in this Test match. He’s just a genius. The scary thing is he’s getting better.”

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England player ratings vs Australia: Ashes 2019 4th Test at Old Trafford

Rory Burns 7/10

Gritty first-innings 81 and averaging above 40 in this series, no mean feat against this attack, despite a second-innings duck.

Joe Denly 7/10

Showed true guts to fight his way to a second-innings half-century that justified his move up to open the batting.

Joe Root 6/10

Again missed out on converting a half-century in the first innings. Golden duck second time around. Captaincy uninspiring in field.

Jason Roy 5/10

Made 22 and 31 – his highest score of the series – after moving down from opener to No 4. Defensive technique still vulnerable.

Ben Stokes 4/10

Wicket-less and made just 22 runs overall. Shoulder injury a mitigating factor and he can’t bail his team-mates out every match.

Jonny Bairstow 4/10

At least he scored fifty, just a shame it was across both innings. Not a great return for a No.6.

Jos Buttler 6/10

Brave second-innings rearguard made Australia work and batted well for 41 in the first innings before running out of partners.

Craig Overton 6/10

Showed great character with the bat on the final day but does not look Test class with the ball.

Jofra Archer 6/10

Came back well with three wickets in Australia’s second innings after appearing broken and down on pace in the first.

Stuart Broad 8/10

Excellent and still England’s leading wicket-taker in this series with 19. His five here were scant reward for his performance.

Jack Leach 6/10

Bowled well overall, even if his figures took a pasting when Australia put their foot to the floor setting up the declaration.

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England hit where it hurts by Josh Hazlewood… so it’s over to you (again), Ben Stokes

OLD TRAFFORD — Once more England’s fate is in the hands of Ben Stokes. Can he do it all again, repel the Australian steamroller to keep the Ashes alive?

Putting an upbeat spin on a day that was oh-so close to being positive, England are 98 shy of saving the follow-on with Stokes and Jonny Bairstow at the crease. The contest promised so much more when Rory Burns and Joe Root were to the fore, comfortably in charge of a Test match session for the first time since the first rubber at Edgbaston. And then, well, Josh Hazlewood happened.

The Mancunian climate tried its best for England, delaying exposure to Hazlewood for the whole of the erased morning session. With a fresh rock Hazlewood is essentially Steve Smith with a ball in his hand; that is, a cut above.

He got rid of nightwatchman Craig ­Overton with his third ball of the day. And then after England had planted a flag in the ground, he ended the defiance of Burns and Root in the space of eight balls before attending to Jason Roy.

Roy had just slammed Hazlewood into the point boundary for four. He might have been starting to feel like a Test match player, 22 to his name and sap rising. Be off with you. Hazlewood ripped his middle pole clean out of the ground next ball to leave Roy’s red-ball career mired in doubt.

One man dividend

If only England could face Mitchell Starc at both ends, a bowler who in this phase of his career is anathema to line and length. Quick? Yes. On the money? Oh dear.

While Hazlewood cranked the pressure, Starc was a one man dividend for Burns and Root, who drove and clipped him for easy runs in the first hour of play.

If you didn’t know better you might think an English poltergeist had entered the soul of Australian captain Tim Paine and instructed him to recall Starc to bring England back into this game. Burns passed 50 and Root brought up the England 100 during his second spell. The first over went for 12, the second for ten. It was almost possible to feel sympathy for the lad.

The skipper was stuck on the horns of a tricky dilemma, remove Starc and ruin his confidence or retain him and ruin his confidence. The change in dynamic was light relief for a crowd who had spent two days at the thick end of Australian dominance, and for an England team enjoying something like ascendency. The advice to Starc from Australia’s line and length exemplar Glenn McGrath was to do less and bowl in the right areas. It is a moot point whether he managed that with a delivery often described as a ten-out-of-ten ball to Root that landed in a delicate area. The blow had the England skipper bent double and the 12th man in hot pursuit of a replacement protector.

Heightened vandal

On resuming his feet Root took the opportunity to take a drink and possibly pain killers during what we might call a medical time-out. Starc appeared pleased to have left some kind of mark with the ball. England regrouped to reach tea without further loss on the back of a century partnership.

The rhythm continued on the resumption, England enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and the denizens in the 8,000-seat temporary stand ever more raucous. How they loved Root’s edge twixt keeper and first slip that went for four, the first false shot of his innings.

Less enjoyable, at least for Root, was the ball from Pat Cummins that speared him above the knee roll on his back leg. Australia appealed the refused lbw call unsuccessfully but had at least broken the spell. Root was significantly discomfited, requiring attention from the physio as he went to ground a couple of balls later.

Cummins was operating in heightened vandal mode now, as visceral as anything we had seen in the match. Over after over, seven on the spin straight after tea. His hostility and perseverance deserved a wicket. It would come but not to him, Hazlewood collecting on his behalf three wickets in the space of 40 minutes to return the Australian boot to the English throat once more.

Over to you, Ben.

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Steve Smith’s double century drains yet more hope from helpless England

OLD TRAFFORD — Some numbers for you; 56, 38, 25, 11, 5 and 7, the scores compiled by Steve Smith in the Test series he contested prior to this in South Africa. That was in March last year before being claimed by the sandpaper trial. He averaged 23.6.

Who was that man? Where is that player? He was mortal then. Already this year in just four innings either side of a concussion he has scored more Test runs than any other batsman in the world, 589. OK he was caught off a no-ball here while on 118, but hey, it is not his fault that slow moving vehicle Jack Leach can’t plant his feet legally at walking pace.

Though Smith is self-evidently in a category of one, this kind of domination can be hard to watch. Rather like Manchester City cracking four against AN Other every week, the inevitability of the world’s number one batsman compiling a 26th Test ton, this one of the daddy variety, was from the English perspective something of spectacle killer and an unmistakable drain on hope.

The bloke is just too good. Discrepancies in talent and quality this big lead to a lack of competitive gristle. Smith’s 211 was his 11th century against England, his third this series and took him past 2,500 Ashes runs, more than Ricky Ponting and Tubby Taylor.

He is now more than halfway to the 5,028 Ashes total amassed by the Don. Though Bradman and England’s Jack Hobbs also scored 500 in an Ashes series, the former five times, only Smith has done it three times consecutively.

Improvised brilliance

It is not so much the improvised brilliance that overwhelms but the simple stuff, the way he leans on the bat for a single either side of the wicket, breaking the spirit of the bowler who strayed a millimetre off line. Another feature of his relentless accumulation is the quick single, which takes another bite out of the fielding’s side morale. In a game of small margins, a contest of tiny victories as well as wickets and runs, little things like that get right under the skin.

The Australian goal was clearly to bat England out of the Ashes. Ben Stokes’s heroics at Headingley apart there is little in the England ­portfolio to suggest that Australia will have to return to the crease a second time. This was old school, ­attritional Test cricket, aided by four dropped catches, two of them absolute dollies in the second session by Jason Roy and sub Sam Curran, as swell as the Leach no-ball fiasco.

Not for the first time this series Smith got himself out seemingly unable or unwilling to concentrate for one second longer. He had been at the crease all day having walked to the wicket on Wednesday morning with the score on 28-2. That Joe Root was the bowler tells you how exhausted was the well of English ideas. With the clock approaching 5:40pm Smith obliged with a reverse sweep to backward point where Joe Denly gobbled the catch.

Cricket bites back

This was the third Ashes double century of Smith’s career. Two have ended reverse-sweeping Root. Following his exit Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon plundered a ­woefully ineffective England attack, the former smacking 54 off 58 balls, including a six off Jofra Archer, the latter 26 off as many deliveries to take Australia to 497-8. Archer ended up wicketless, shipping 97 runs off 27 overs. Test cricket bites back.

Asked to bat for 40 minutes England reached 22 for the loss of Joe Denly. It was a sharp take caught at the second attempt by Matthew Wade at short leg. How galling that after Australia had clattered the best part of 500 runs courtesy of England’s Teflon hands, they should snaffle a wicket by pouching a half chance.

The players left the field with the floodlights illuminating the stadium and the sun setting not only on the temporary stand at the Stretford End but on England’s hopes of winning this match. We have been here before, of course. Let’s hope England’s top order weigh in before Ben Stokes is asked to don his cape for a second time in as many Tests.

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Ashes 2019: Ben Stokes injury scare gives England jitters after huge Steve Smith total leaves them battling to save fourth Test

England suffered an injury scare to talisman Ben Stokes on a day that ended with Joe Root’s team fighting to save this fourth Ashes Test following another batting masterclass from Steve Smith.

Smith’s 211 helped Australia post an imposing first-innings 497 for eight declared on day two in Manchester. England then closed on 23 for one after they lost Joe Denly, who made four after being moved up from No 4 to opener in place of Jason Roy.

But it is the injury to Stokes’ right shoulder that will worry England after the all-rounder left the field for treatment and did not bowl in the final 35 overs of Australia’s innings.

Stokes scored an unbeaten 135 with the bat to inspire England’s series-levelling win at Headingley in the third Test but his efforts with the ball were also key in that miraculous one-wicket triumph.

It is understood England are not ruling anything in or out in terms of whether Stokes, their vice-captain, will be able to bowl again at Old Trafford. Yet with just three days in between this match and the final Test at The Oval next week, his injury – described as “soreness” by England – is far from ideal.

England wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow said: “I’ve not spoken to the physio or the doc about it. He came back on the field. As far as I’m concerned if it was very, very serious he wouldn’t have retaken the field. We know what a character Ben is, how strong he is mentally and physically. I’m sure it’ll be assessed overnight but as of this moment in time I genuinely don’t know [how bad it is].”

‘We’ll be sticking to the plans we’ve got’

Bairstow also praised Smith, who now has three centuries in this series and 11 against England overall.

“I’m not sure we’re the only team around the world who’ve tried a few different plans against him,” he said. “We’ll be sticking to the plans we’ve got. On another day we get him out slightly earlier.”

England should have done just that yesterday, Smith dropped on 65 by Jofra Archer and given a reprieve on 118 when he was caught by Stokes off a Jack Leach no-ball.

“A no-ball is a no-ball, no-one means to bowl one or drop catches,” said Bairstow. “It’s not the first dismissal there’s been off a no-ball and it won’t be the last.”

On the overall match situation, Bairstow added: “There’s three innings still to go in the game. If we can go out and apply ourselves tomorrow, set out stall out to bat for a long period of time like we did in the second innings at Headingley there’s no reason why we can’t turn it around.”

Read more: Ashes 2019: England bowlers sleepwalk through demoralising second day as Anderson sorely missed

Smith, ruled out of Headingley with concussion after he was hit at Lord’s by an Archer bouncer, admitted England’s tactic to bowl short at him played into his hands.

“I said before this game if they’re bowling up at my head and not at the stumps they can’t get me lbw or caught behind the wicket. That played in our favour. For them to go as short as they did as early as they did played into our hands.”

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Ashes 2019: England bowlers sleepwalk through demoralising second day as James Anderson sorely missed

So heartbroken was James Anderson at missing the final two matches of this Ashes series through injury that he went on holiday to the Mediterranean rather than have to watch this fourth Test at his home ground.

Anderson’s crushing feeling of disappointment was no doubt shared by his England teammates as they sleepwalked through a demoralising and error-strewn afternoon session on this second day that appears to have decisively tipped the balance of this match – and the series – in Australia’s favour.

By now you probably know the details of that wicket-less and soul-destroying session for England that saw Steve Smith reprieved after being caught off a Jack Leach no-ball and Tim Paine, up to this point Australia’s non-scoring wicketkeeper-batsman and captain, dropped twice before reaching 50.

Overton underwhelms

In a parallel universe Anderson would have been fully recovered from the calf injury that has dogged him this summer and tearing in from the end at Old Trafford that bears his name. Instead we were forced to endure the underwhelming figure of Craig Overton taking his mark from the James Anderson End.

Overton may have finagled the wicket of Paine eventually. Yet the Somerset yeoman’s limitations were cast in even starker perspective by the absence of England’s all-time record wicket-taker in Manchester.

Speaking before this Test, Stuart Broad, a man who has stepped up impressively in his close friend and bowling partner’s absence, admitted: “I had in my mind the idea that it was almost written in the stars that he would be back and open the bowling at the James Anderson End and bowl us to victory. But that’s not going to happen.”

Replacing Anderson with Overton, who has played just three Tests and wasn’t even on the selection radar this summer before last week, is akin to taking your Porsche into the dealership for repairs and being handed the keys to a Reliant Robin as your courtesy car.

Read more: Ashes 2019: Australia make early inroads at Ice Station Old Trafford as Steve Smith digs in once again

That’s not being overly critical of Overton. After all, the 25-year-old’s effort can never be faulted and he may yet make a decisive contribution for England in this Test with the bat.

But the quality gap between him and Anderson is stark and that was perfectly illustrated during this demoralising day.

Unlucky injuries

Up until now, England had managed to stumble their way through this series without the leader of their attack and still emerge level at 1-1 after three Tests.

Yet they have badly missed a man with 575 wickets over the first two days of this match and the possible alternative scenarios, where Anderson didn’t break down four overs into the series opener at Edgbaston, make things all the more painful for both the man himself and England. No wonder he decided to leave the country.

As well as Broad has bowled in this series and the fact a new star in Jofra Archer has been unearthed, England have been incredibly unlucky with injury to bowlers this summer.

As well as Anderson, the absence of Mark Wood – working at Old Trafford for BBC radio – has also been a bad loss for England. Like Archer, Wood is capable of bowling above 90mph on a regular basis. In fact, he was even quicker than Archer during the World Cup.

Wood, though, is even more experienced and would have been a valuable weapon for captain Joe Root against the Australians in this series.

Yet Wood, who bar for the first match was an ever-present figure during England’s World Cup win, succumbed to knee and side injuries after the tournament. Wood’s history of injury problems are extensive. Yet that makes his absence no less damaging.

Read more: Ashes 2019: Advantage Australia as Jofra Archer seems to run out of gas against Steve Smith

Olly Stone, the young Warwickshire pace bowler struck down by back injuries since being called up by England last winter, is another genuine quick who may have figured this summer.

However, the more subtle skills of Anderson – arguably the greatest swing bowler in history – have far and away been the most significant loss from this series for England.

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Ashes 2019: Craig Overton says Jofra Archer will be ‘raring to go’ after tough day against Australia

Craig Overton has revealed the cheeky sledge to Marnus Labuschagne that followed his first home Test wicket – a dismissal England hope will spark their revival in this fourth Ashes Test.

The 25-year-old Somerset seamer made the only breakthrough for Joe Root’s team during a stop-start second half of the day in Manchester, his wicket of Labuschagne seeing Australia reach a premature close on 170 for three.

Labuschagne, who made 67, was eventually bowled by Overton, who was playing his first Test in England having played three away from home in Australia and New Zealand during the winter of 2017-18.

And the fact it was his inswinger that did for Labuschagne made the wicket – his eighth in Tests overall – all the sweeter on a windy day at Old Trafford.

‘Make sure you keep an eye on it’

“The over before Marnus cut me for four thinking it was the inswinger, but I told him it wasn’t,” Overton said. “Then I bowled him the inswinger and it came out nice, worked out quite well. It wasn’t a send off or anything when I got him out, it was just saying: ‘That one was the inswinger, make sure you keep an eye on it.’

“It was a frustrating day for us, conditions didn’t really suit running into bowl but we stuck at it pretty well. We felt like we can come back tomorrow with a positive attitude and try to make a difference, get someone to stand up and be the man to get conditions back in our favour.”

Ben Stokes, whose brilliant unbeaten 135 in the previous Test at Headingley helped England to a miraculous win that levelled the series, has been the man for the hosts in this series so far.

But Steve Smith, the Australia batsman finishing the day unbeaten on 60, has been the defining figure for the tourists and an eighth successive 50-plus Ashes score is threatening to take this Test away from England.

Read more: Australia make early inroads at Ice Station Old Trafford as Steve Smith digs in once again

Smith missed the last match in Leeds with concussion and Overton knows his wicket will be key on day two.

“He’s obviously a world-class player,” he said. “He’s always going to be difficult but we’ve got our plans and we’ll try to keep going to them. Hopefully we get him out tomorrow.”

‘Archer will be raring to go’

Jofra Archer was noticeably down on pace on the first day in Manchester but Overton says it’s not a worry for England.

Read more: Advantage Australia as Jofra Archer seems to run out of gas against Steve Smith

“I don’t think so,” he said. “We all tended to struggle with the wind, I wouldn’t look too much into it. He’ll be raring to go and coming again tomorrow, firing in and bowling as quick as he can. Hopefully taking a few wickets as well.”

As for the overall match situation, Overton admitted: “We’re probably slightly behind but we felt the conditions weren’t quite with us today, with the wind etc. We come back in the morning, get a couple of early ones and we’ll be right back in the game.”

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Ashes 2019: Advantage Australia as Jofra Archer seems to run out of gas against Steve Smith

The moment Jofra Archer struck Steve Smith on the fourth day of the Lord’s Test always felt key in this series and so it has proved. The only problem for England is it now looks like a passage of play that has paved the way for Australia to retain the Ashes.

Smith’s eventual diagnosis of concussion following that 92 mph blow on the neck from Archer led to Marnus Labuschagne being parachuted in Australia’s brittle batting line-up.

Indeed, Labuschagne has not looked back since becoming international cricket’s first concussion substitute, starting off with 59 at Lord’s and then following up with scores of 74, 80 at Headingley and 67 on day one in Manchester. The South African-born batsman now has an average of 70 in a series he wasn’t even expected to play in when it began. His move from four to three upon Smith’s return to the team at Old Trafford has also been seamless and the 116-run stand the pair shared for Australia’s third wicket did much to kill any momentum England had hoped to take into this Test from their dramatic win at Headingley.

England bowlers at a loss

With Usman Khawaja dropped to make way for Smith’s return, Australia have stumbled on a combination at numbers three and four that has added to steel to an otherwise shaky batting order. It may be a combination that helps them over the line in this series, especially as England’s bowling attack looked so anaemic as a collective on the first day of this Test.

Aside from Stuart Broad’s excellent opening spell, England largely bowled poorly, despite the mitigating factor of the high winds that must have made finding rhythm difficult. Most worrying was the performance of Archer, who appears to be flagging towards the tail end of a momentous first summer as an international player.

Read more: Joe Root explains why England selected Craig Overton in place of Chris Woakes

Archer was noticeably down on pace in the previous Test in Leeds but that appeared more because he was bowling to the conditions – and his first-innings six-wicket haul backed up that school of thought.

At Old Trafford, though, he was even slower, a top speed of 89mph far from sluggish but still way down on the spell-binding 90mph-plus spell during his duel with Smith at Lord’s.

Workload catching up with Archer?

The excitement over Archer after that Test was understandable. But so too is the fact he is now appearing to run out of gas. The 24-year-old bowler has carried a monumental workload this summer, his heroics in the World Cup – a tournament he was nursed through with a side strain – and in his opening two Tests in this series surely now finally catching up with him.

The anticipation of his duel with Smith in Manchester was high. The reality, though, was rather underwhelming, even if Archer did initially crank up his pace at the very beginning.

Read more: Australia make early inroads at Ice Station Old Trafford as Steve Smith digs in once again

Archer may well come back and confound everyone over the remainder of this match – England have been good at doing that this summer.

But after one day of this match, it appears advantage Smith, Labuschagne and Australia – rather than Archer and England – in the battle for the Ashes.

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Ashes 2019: Australia make early inroads at Ice Station Old Trafford as Steve Smith digs in once again

For the greater part of the day Old Trafford looked like a windswept cricketing outpost in autumn. Hold on a minute, it is a windswept cricketing outpost in autumn. The presence of stewards standing like sentries out in the middle, their transparent pacamacs billowing in the gale, mocked the scheduling of an Ashes Test north of Watford north of August.

The rump end of a weather front whipping in off the Atlantic at least offered scope for humour. “It’s going to be sweltering today, 30 degrees,” Sky pundit David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd informed colleague Shane Warne at the start of play. “Aye, 15 degrees in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.” Warne laughed. How could he not? “Robbie Williams’ old man let me have that one for free,” Bumble let slip during lunch. Should the meteorology continue to intrude negatively, there might be scope to return to that association.

Deep into the afternoon when play eventually resumed after a three-hour hiatus we had a period when an ironic beach ball blew across the square, followed by a crisp packet, and then reluctant bails repeatedly falling from the stumps each forced a break in play. In the end umpire Kumar Dharmasena lost patience and stuffed the bails in his pocket, befuddling some England players in the field who were clearly not abreast of the rules that allow play to continue. A few overs later the bails returned weighted by screws drilled into the ends. These were among the highlights at Ice Station Old Trafford.

Broad strikes again

Play did at least start on time, and in those early exchanges lived up to the billing with a wicket in the first over. Since Stuart Broad opened the bowling you can probably guess the identity of the fallen. Yes, that man David Warner for the fifth time in seven innings, drawn into a nothing flick at a ball that seemed violently away. Broad followed its line with arms akimbo as he ran towards the celebrating slip cordon.

At 1-1 the moment called out to Jofra Archer to really shake ’em up. The wind was not so much at his back as across him. The result was curiously underwhelming, mind you he was bowling in a jumper. His first over went through the mph speed trap at 81, 78, 83, 80, 84 and 84, plus fractions thereof, at an average of 82, 1mph slower than Broad. At this pace Australia found Archer a straightforward proposition.

It was left to Broad to make the most of the new nut, accounting for Marcus Harris via umpire’s call with the last ball of his fourth over, a delivery that slammed into the left-hander’s pads from around the wicket. This, of course, brought Steve Smith to the wicket to partner Marnus Labuschagne. His first ball since Lord’s would be against the man who put him out of that contest and the last at Leeds.

Read more: Australia will be in mourning after Headingley but momentum can shift quickly in Ashes

Archer’s first ball at Smith was 5mph quicker than his average at 87mph. His second was a bouncer. Though way too short, the temperature had risen markedly if not anywhere near the values of Lord’s and Leeds. The first ball of Archer’s fifth and final over of his opening spell, also at Smith, was the quickest of the morning, 88mph and flashed off the blade for four through point. His fourth ball his 89mph but did not threaten a wicket. Two balls skipper Joe Root had seen enough. This would not be an Archer day.

Smith digs in

Steve Smith with bat in hand
Steve Smith had another influential spell with the bat (Getty Images)

Stokes was the man to replace him, entering the fray to a rousing cheer that reflected his Headingley heroics. Stokes quickly evinced from Smith the increasingly bizarre defensive dances, which include the reverse pivot to present his back to the bowler and the bat-over-the-shoulder move as if casting a fishing line into water. Via these weird rituals does Smith lock himself into optimal engagement. He never looked like getting out on the way to an unbeaten 60.

Read more: Cricketing immortals will collide at Old Trafford, where the unexpected is expected again

Labuschagne appeared equally untroubled until misjudging a ball from Craig Overton that came back at him to clip the top of his off stump. This is, of course, textbook territory for the bowler, who in this case forced the error by switching the shiny side of the ball to the inside. And didn’t Overton just love it when his plan came together. Australia’s day though, the weather forcing a premature end at 170-3.

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Australia will be in mourning after Headingley but momentum can shift quickly in Ashes series

Jetlagged and a bit dazed, I’ve only just arrived in the UK having watched the series so far from my home in Perth. The timings are perfect for me and my son to stay up and watch the games, but I think my TV is still recovering from everything I threw at it during that last day at Headingley.

Watching that game, there was such a strong feeling of inevitability about it. The crowd were growing in both noise and confidence as the ever-important rub of the green started to favour the home team. There’s been palpable anger in Australia about the final acts of that game, with the umpiring decision surrounding the Ben Stokes LBW at the very heart of the ill-feeling but also that Australia had plenty of chances but couldn’t take any of them, plus a botched review.

However, what an incredible end to a Test match! You’ve got to love it. I did a radio interview back home before that last day and the host of the show seemed sure Australia had both the game and the series in the bag. I couldn’t quite get on board with that, given the quality of the players England had still to come in. Turns out I was right to be sceptical.

This series has been incredibly well followed back in Australia in general, which is great to see given where the Test match game is at. The questions are now centring around how Australia bounce back after England’s unlikely win. Everyone watching that game would have felt that, once England were 70-odd runs adrift with one wicket left, it had to be our game.

Paine’s positivity

From Australia’s point of view, they’ll have been utterly distraught that they couldn’t take that final step. I can’t explain how crushing it is to get within one wicket of the game and the series being done and dusted and not taking that opportunity. No matter how strong you are as an individual and as a group of players, losses like that need to be mourned. It’s a natural process. Test cricket is such a long game, even if you love it as much as I did! You go through stages in games of feeling great and positive about your chances, but you’re also aware when your luck as a team seems to have changed.

Tim Paine and the management will be working hard to make sure the Aussies don’t allow any negativity to creep into the guys’ minds, keeping the chat as positive as possible.

‘We’ve been on top for pretty much the whole of this series, haven’t we?’ That sort of thing. You have to remind the players how good and how much better they’ve been than England for vast swathes of the series so far. It’s about retaining some perspective. England have had one of their greatest Test wins in history, but that doesn’t automatically make them a great team.

Morale can evaporate

England’s James Anderson (left) and Monty Panesar walk off after securing a draw in the first Ashes Test in the 2009 series at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff (Getty Images)

We have Steve Smith to come back in and hopefully a stronger Australian batting unit altogether with the excellent Marnus Labuschagne retaining his spot as well. Our bowlers have had the wood over England’s batsmen on every surface so far, consistently causing problems for their best players. That’s unlikely to change because of one innings, albeit an absolutely brilliant one from Ben Stokes.

Having said that, I’ve seen first-hand how big an effect snatching an unlikely win or even a draw can have on a team’s morale. Two examples spring to my mind from my personal Ashes battles, Adelaide in the 2006-07 series back home and Cardiff in 2009.

Adelaide was our Headingley, really. We conceded a first-innings deficit to England who amassed a huge 551-6 declared on a typically beautiful Adelaide batting trac. Everyone thought it would be a draw but we somehow found a way to win, getting close to England in our first innings before they then fell away in the second dig, eventually rolling over for 129.

I was lucky enough to be there to hit the winning runs on what was an amazing evening in the South Australian sun as we chased down England’s total.

After that win, we felt invincible. As a team, we knew that no matter how dire a situation was, we had it in us to turn it around and get back into a winning position. For England on that tour, that was it. They felt the opposite way – ‘we’re not even safe when we stick 550 up on the board against this lot!’

Contrast that with Cardiff in 2009. We had England on the rack having belted 674-6 declared, with yours truly about the only bloke not to get a hundred! England then fell to be nine down and still behind us, with Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar at the crease.

It was the first game of the series. A real chance to lay the demons of 2005 to rest and make a statement. Yet, we just couldn’t get them out. Monty was trying to run himself out, but both he and Jimmy played with real bravery to get England out of jail that day. We were left deflated and dejected with four games to go. Not a great start.

Have Aussies let their chance slip?

I wanted to give those two examples to emphasise how tough it is for players to retain their perspective following a game as special as the one we’ve just seen at Headingley. Momentum in sport is hugely important, and Stokes may have single-handedly stoked the fire in the bellies of England’s batsmen. They’ll want to feel what he will have experienced on that last day.

Conversely, the question remains whether they can repel this Aussie attack that has kept coming after them on this tour. Yet, Australia arguably have the tougher job in terms of trying to forget that last game and not feeling like they’ve let their chance slip.

I’m still backing Australia to get their noses in front here in Manchester. They’ve played the better cricket and just look more likely to play well consistently. However, you never can tell how a team will react to a defeat like that. Time to find out.

Mike Hussey was speaking to freelance cricket journalist James Alder

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Cricketing immortals will collide at Old Trafford – where the unexpected is expected again

So here we are again, back where we started, the Ashes in the balance with two Tests to go. Steve Smith’s return to the Australian side coincides with his elevation to the No 1 spot in the ICC batting rankings, not that he needed the validation to underline his potency. England have Ben Stokes.

After Stokes’ conflagration at Headingley it is tempting just to leave it there. What is the point of poring over the possibilities and potential outcomes when you have a player capable of shredding all considerations, of altering the course of history in ways unimaginable?

At the top end of his spectrum Stokes is a cricketer beyond category, a convention-buster who defies classification. You wonder how he proceeds when confronted by one of those screen prompts that asks us to tick a box confirming us as human? Maybe it defers to him and fails to present at all.

Then again how can one so blessed chuck it in for eight runs as he did in that calamitous first innings at Headingley, or bowl so poorly as to let David Warner, who couldn’t buy a run in four previous innings, notch a fifty in conditions ridiculously favourable to the bowling side? The answer: this is sport. Its capacity to confound is at the heart of its appeal. Thus over the coming five days we can offer only a best guess at what might come to pass.

Potent weapons on both sides

Nathan Lyon of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of Joe Denly of England during day five of the 1st Specsavers Ashes Test between England and Australia
Nathan Lyon bowled Australia to victory in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston (Getty Images)

This Ashes series is a contest conditioned by the quality of the bowling attacks in conditions favouring the ball. England have the most potent quick in Jofra Archer and a seam bowler at the top of his considerable game in Stuart Broad. If Stokes is on he is a serious complement to both as he showed in steaming in late on Friday at Headingley when Archer was absent with cramp and England needed to keep the Australian total from climbing out of reach.

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Nathan Lyon gives the Australian attack greater balance and if the wicket turns in the second innings he is a match-winning threat that England just don’t have. Should Australia recall Mitchell Starc, as his return to the 12 suggests, his left arm imprint makes Lyon an even greater menace bowling into those juicy boot marks. Though he will forever be remembered for the run-out fail that would have seen the Ashes regained, Headingley was also the ground where Lyon reached 357 Test wickets to eclipse Dennis Lillee in the Australian all-time list and underscore his place in the pantheon.

Questions for England to answer

Jason Roy has been moved down the order to No 4 (Getty Images)

Take Stokes out of the equation in Leeds and England would be running out at Old Trafford with the Ashes gone against a critical backdrop calling for root and branch reform of the domestic game. The fundamentals at play have not changed because of one extraordinary innings. The County Championship is an anachronistic relic of a bygone age that would be unsustainable without the enduring appeal of Test cricket in England.

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The county structure is increasingly tilted towards the shorter forms of the game since they provide the cash that keeps the professional sport alive. The incoming Hundred is just the latest example of cricket conjuring new ways to chase pound notes. How the sport nourishes and maintains the Test format is the question of the age, and neatly framed by the difficulty England have had accommodating the talents of Jason Roy, a batsman groomed to clobber a white ball to all points of the compass.

Roy has shown himself to be ill equipped to deal with a red cherry that stores far more variables under that big, proud seem than the white variant. The solution at Old Trafford is to remove him from the early assault for as long as possible so that batting at four he might prosper as the ball gets older. In his stead Joe Denly, buoyed by his half century in Leeds, goes out first with Rory Burns to counter the brutal vicissitudes associated with a shiny, new Dukes.

Smith vs Archer is key

Australia's Steve Smith is assessed by medical staff after being hit on the neck by a ball off the bowling of England's Jofra Archer (AFP/Getty Images)
Australia’s Steve Smith is assessed by medical staff after being hit on the neck by a ball off the bowling of England’s Jofra Archer (AFP/Getty Images)

Though both batting line-ups are brittle the series antecedents favour Australia, who with Marnus Labuschagne at three and Smith at four, offer a degree of adhesion unavailable to England. In three innings apiece Smith averages 126, Labuschagne 71. Much will depend on the ability of Archer to penetrate that twin Aussie redoubt.

Read more: Craig Overton: from the 2015 racism scandal to his England Test career so far – all you need to know about the fast bowler

Archer was of course responsible for Smith’s absence at Leeds with concussion. How that dynamic plays out will arguably decide the outcome. Archer hardly needed an incentive to get after Smith but that did not stop the 21st Century Don providing one with his bullish rejoinder, delivered with a dismissive chuckle, that England’s fastest man has yet to claim his wicket.

Seconds out… round four.

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Craig Overton: from the 2015 racism scandal to his England Test career so far – all you need to know about the fast bowler

England have recalled Somerset bowler Craig Overton to their side for the fourth Ashes Test against Australia, in place of Chris Woakes.

The right-arm medium pacer is the only change to the team which won in dramatic fashion last week at Headingley, though there is a slight tweak to the batting order, with Joe Denly moving up to open with Rory Burns, and Jason Roy dropping to No 4.

Overton, 25, was drafted into the squad in place of James Anderson, who has been ruled out of the series with the calf strain which sidelined him during the first Test at Edgbaston.

He comes straight into the team preferred to Surrey all-rounder Sam Curran, and will earn his fourth Test cap at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

How has he fared in Tests before?

Overton celebrates taking the wicket of Cameron Bancroft during the third Ashes Test in Perth in 2017 (Photo: Getty)

Overton made his Test debut during the last Ashes series in Adelaide in 2017. His first Test wicket came when he clean bowled a certain Steve Smith on the way to recording figures of 3-105 from 33 overs in the first innings. Tim Paine and Pat Cummins were his other scalps.

He was only given two overs in the second innings, but managed to pick up the wicket of tail-ender Josh Hazlewood. England lost the match by 120 runs.

Overton was also selected for the third Test in Perth, which England lost by an innings and 41 runs. He took 2-110 from 24 overs, dismissing openers Cameron Bancroft and David Warner.

His third and final Test appearance came against New Zealand in Auckland in March last year – another innings defeat. Batting at No 9, Overton scored 33 of England’s 58 runs in a dismal first innings, and took 1-70 with the ball.

He has a Test bowling average of 42.28, and a batting average of 24.50.

County career

Overton is a key man for his county side Somerset (Photo: Getty)

Overton made his debut for Somerset – where he plays alongside his twin brother Jamie – in 2012, where he has long been an important part of the bowling attack.

He averages 25.53 with the ball in first-class cricket, with 279 wickets from 85 matches, and an innings best of 6-24. He is also handy with the bat, averaging over 21 from 124 innings.

What does he bring to the England side?

Overton is not as quick as his brother Jamie, but at 6’5″ is able to get a lot of bounce and also swings the ball. That bounce and movement is likely to be a key reason behind why England have recalled him for what is expected to be a quick pitch at Old Trafford.

The other key, of course, is the name on his first ever Test wicket. England can’t expect to literally knock Smith out of the game every time, and need to find a way to actually dismiss him. Overton may have only done this once, but it has to be worth a punt, right?

With the bat the Somerset man isn’t quite as accomplished as Woakes down the order, and is less technical, but still has the ability to contribute with important runs – as shown by a best Test score of 41 not out, and a first-class best of 138.

Racism scandal

Overton drew criticism in December 2015 after claims emerged that he told former Sussex batsman Ashar Zaidi to “go back to your own fucking country” during a county match.

Overton denies he ever said these words, but was charged with a level-one breach for abusive language by the England & Wales Cricket Board’s Cricket Discipline Commission, which does not include language “that vilifies another on the basis of race or national origin”.

He went on to work with a psychologist over his anger issues, telling The Independent in 2017: “I’ve calmed down the last couple of years and I think what happened has made me realise you can’t go on acting like that.”

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Tim Paine admits Ben Stokes has given him sleepless nights ahead of fourth Ashes test at Old Trafford

Australia captain Tim Paine has refuted claims from England’s Jofra Archer that his team choked at Headingley but did admit Ben Stokes has given him sleepless nights ahead of the fourth Test that starts in Manchester on Wednesday.

Paine conceded he made mistakes in the field in the closing stages of the third Test in Leeds, when Stokes hit a brilliant unbeaten 135 to guide England to an improbable win that levelled the series at 1-1 with two to play.

The conclusion to that match saw many accuse the Australians of choking, with Archer insisting he thought the tourists would be mentally shot for the rest of the series after “panicking” at Headingley.

‘Jofra’s entitled to his opinion’

Jofra Archer
Jofra Archer has accused Australia of ‘bottling’ the third Test (Photo: Getty)

But Paine, whose mediocre batting so far in the series has put his own place under severe pressure, hit back at claims of choking, saying: “Jofra’s entitled to his opinion, he’s had plenty of those that’s for sure. But we made some mistakes, it happens, we’ve addressed it as a team, we’ve spoken about it honestly. I was certainly one of those people who made mistakes, it happens in cricket, we’ve moved on and we’re here ready for a great Test match.”

Asked specifically if he had a problem with Archer, the fast bowler who has 13 wickets in his first three Tests, Paine, who averages just 12.83 in this series, said: “Not at all. Just that, as I said, I was told a few things when I was down in Derby [for Australia’s tour match last week] – I haven’t actually seen the quotes –but, yeah, talk is talk and we are here to play this Test match. What’s happened in the past has happened and Jofra is entitled to his opinion. As I said, it doesn’t faze us one way or another.”

‘Stokes has made me lose sleep’

Ben Stokes of England celebrates hitting the winning runs to win the 3rd Specsavers Ashes Test match between England and Australia
Ben Stokes celebrates hitting the winning runs at Headingley (Getty Images)

Yet one thing that does faze the Australians is Stokes, whose Headingley heroics have kept Paine up at night over the past week. “I haven’t lost a hell of a lot of sleep thinking about my captaincy,” he said. “But I have lost a bit of sleep thinking how we’re going to get him [Stokes] out, that’s for sure.

“He’s a class player and he’s really confident at the moment. He’s going well. We’ve got some plans for him but we’ve just got to execute them a bit better. As I said post Test match, I think Nathan Lyon has actually bowled really well to him. He’s created a number of chances each time he’s bowled to him.”

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Ashes 2019: Joe Root explains why Craig Overton selected for England in place of Chris Woakes

Joe Root has cited Craig Overton’s character and the extra bounce his 6’4 frame can generate at Old Trafford as the primary reasons for the decision to include him in England’s team for the fourth Test.

England had hoped to welcome back James Anderson, their all-time leading wicket-taker, in Manchester. Instead, with Anderson, 37, ruled out for the rest of the series with a calf injury, it is the underwhelming figure of Overton who has come into the XI in place of Chris Woakes for this must-win contest.

The Somerset bowler played the last of his three Tests against New Zealand in Auckland 18 months ago. He had started his career in the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia, making his debut at Adelaide and claiming Steve Smith as his first wicket.

Yet Overton’s stats – seven Test wickets at 42.28 – make for ordinary reading and the decision to call upon a player who has lost 100 per cent of his England Tests so far is baffling.

‘A different option’

Sam Curran, the left-arm seamer who lit up his debut series against India last summer with bat and ball, must be in a terrible run of form having been overlooked this time.

Read more: The end for James Anderson? Don’t write that stubborn so and so off just yet

Root, though, is comfortable with Overton’s inclusion. “The extra bounce of a taller bowler gives us a different option on a ground that does perform slightly differently,” he said. “It will balance our attack really well in these conditions.

“He’s a competitor. You saw him come into Ashes cricket on debut and looked very much at home and got himself in a battle. I expect him to do that again this week. He’s got good control, good skills, moves the ball off the straight and I expect him to cause some issues for the Australian batters.”

‘It’s not gone how we’d have liked’

Root also defended the decision to swap Jason Roy and Joe Denly around in the batting order, with the former moving down to No4 and the latter promoted to open alongside Rory Burns in Manchester despite scoring a welcome fifty from four in the second innings of England’s win in the third Test at Headingley.

“It’s not gone exactly how we’d have liked and Jason hasn’t scored the runs he would have liked,” admitted Root. “As before, we’re trying to find a formula at the top of the order that works for us. Jason is a high-quality player, we all know that, and he might be better suited at four.

Read more: Stuart Broad expects to play alongside James Anderson again despite bowling partner’s latest injury woes

“He was extremely excited to get the chance to open the batting but I think he might be better suited for the middle order on the evidence we have seen over the last three games. We have seen him play enough international cricket to know what he can do when he gets himself in so hopefully batting lower down allows him to do that.

“Joe has played some good cricket throughout the summer, he has got himself in and he was very good in that second innings [at Headingley]. It’s a great opportunity for him to get us off to a good start with Rory.”

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Old Trafford weather forecast: latest Met Office day 3 predictions for 4th Ashes Test in Manchester

Ben Stokes played the innings of a generation in the last Ashes Test, his unbeaten 135 wresting the urn back from Australia’s grasp and shifting momentum back to an England side that appeared doomed to a dismal defeat.

Now, after the absurd drama at Headingley, attention shifts across the Pennines to Old Trafford with the series level at 1-1 and the destination of Test cricket’s greatest prize hanging in the balance.

The hosts are desperate to carry the impetus from the third Test into the crucial clash, while their oldest foe hope the return of Steve Smith provides the boost they need to deal a decisive, Ashes-retaining blow.

But, as we enter autumn, will the notoriously drizzly Manchester weather continue to play a part? Here’s the day-by-day forecast for the fourth Test from the Met Office.

Ben Stokes of England celebrates hitting the winning runs to win the 3rd Specsavers Ashes Test match between England and Australia
England will hoping to carry the momentum from Ben Stokes’ third Test heroics into the Old Trafford clash (Getty Images)

Day 3 – Friday 6 September

After a largely uninterrupted second day, it cold be a slow start on Friday, with a 50 per cent chance of rain until 11.00am and then again between 12.00pm and 1.00pm. Further showers are forecast after lunch, but by 3.00pm the weather should clear until the close – temperatures will again be somewhat autumnal, and are unlikely to climb above 16C.

Day 4 – Saturday 7 September

Fortunately, things look drier on Saturday, although the day is set to be cloudy. The chance of rain never rises above 10 per cent throughout the day, and is generally even lower, with the mercury climbing up to 17C for the first time in the Test.

Day 5 – Sunday 8 September

If the Test runs to day five (due to the weather or otherwise) Sunday is forecast to be a similar story to Saturday. That means largely dry but overcast, with temperatures hovering between 15C and 16C.

Ben Stokes of England celebrates hitting the winning runs to win the 3rd Specsavers Ashes Test match between England and Australia at Headingley
England’s dramatic victory in Leeds left the Ashes intriguingly poised (Getty Images)

Full Ashes series schedule

  • 1st Test: Edgbaston (1-5 August)
  • 2nd Test: Lord’s (14-18 August)
  • 3rd Test: Headingley (22-26 August)
  • 4th Test: Old Trafford (4-8 September)
  • 5th Test: The Oval (12-16 September)
Australia's Steve Smith is hit on the neck with a ball bowled by England's Jofra Archer
Steve Smith is back after being struck in the neck by a vicious bouncer from Jofra Archer at Lord’s (Action Images via Reuters)

The sides for the fourth Test


  • Rory Burns
  • Joe Denly
  • Joe Root (C)
  • Jason Roy
  • Ben Stokes
  • Jonny Bairstow (WK)
  • Jos Buttler
  • Craig Overton
  • Jofra Archer
  • Stuart Broad
  • Jack Leach


  • Tim Paine (C, WK)
  • Pat Cummins
  • Marcus Harris
  • Josh Hazlewood
  • Travis Head
  • Marnus Labuschagne
  • Nathan Lyon
  • Steve Smith
  • Mitchell Starc
  • Matthew Wade
  • David Warner

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