The third Ashes Test starts on Thursday as Australia bid to retain the little urn with victory in Leeds, but they’ll have to do it without their main man.
First Jimmy Anderson, now Steve Smith. Two of the best players of England and Australia respectively are out with injuries, effectively ruling out the prospect of witnessing the one-on-one duel that could have defined the series.
England have been hit by the absence of their spearhead, despite Jofra Archer’s feverish pace and endurance on debut. Smith, on the other hand, has jumped to No.2 in the batting rankings just nine days after returning to the Test arena following the ball-tampering scandal of 2018. He has made 32 per cent of Australia’s runs in the series, despite missing the fourth innings at Lord’s with concussion.
Both teams have been disadvantaged with the absence of their respective stalwarts, yet neither team particularly holds the advantage because of it. “It’s not unlike Anderson – he’s arguably their best bowler – and we’re going to lose arguably our best batter for this Test match,” Justin Langer, Australia’s coach, said. “So it’s a blow, no doubt about that.
“He felt a bit better yesterday, but he’s not going to have time to tick off everything he needs to do to be able to play. He loves batting and he wants to play, but he understands he’s not 100 per cent yet.”
Nonetheless, the No.4 position continues to churn out golden geese, with Marnus Labuschagne, Smith’s replacement in the fourth innings at Lord’s, hitting a half-century in his first Ashes innings. Likewise, Archer ensured England only felt Anderson’s absence minimally, scorching Australia with speeds of well over 150kph, including that 92-mph brute that felled Smith. With Archer having made his much-anticipated debut, England are likely to be unchanged at Headingley.
That means another opportunity for struggling Test opener Jason Roy, who has aggregated 40 runs in four innings so far. A move down the order may transpire eventually, and team management has already acknowledged the possibility, but Roy is set to remain at the top in Leeds.
“Personally, I think he probably is suited to the middle order, but we’ve selected him for the top of the order on his form and experience in the one-day team,” Bayliss said on Tuesday. “I think at the start of his one-day career he missed out a few times as well, and it took him a little while to get the hang of it. So the possibility of him playing again at the top of the order doesn’t really concern us. We know what he can do when he does play well.”
Since Alastair Cook’s retirement in September last year, England have trialled five openers, but barring Jack Leach, who only played there as nightwatchman against Ireland, all of them have averaged well under 40 in their 34 innings combined.
As is the case with England, Australia’s top-order form has been well below par. David Warner and Cameron Bancroft have not topped 16 in the series, but like the hosts, Australia are pinning their faith in the duo coming good. But just how many lives will they be given, especially now Smith’s injury leaves a huge dent in the line-up?
Both teams are relatively well-matched in the fast bowling department, which is replete with skilled operators breathing fire. Australia have the more established spinner in Nathan Lyon, despite Leach’s promising Lord’s outing having ousted Moeen Ali, while the home team holds the edge in terms of batting depth.
Britain’s sports minister Nigel Adams has joined the Australian prime minister in criticising England fans for booing Steve Smith during the second Ashes Test, describing it as “distasteful”.https://t.co/pQtaQtNbhn
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) August 20, 2019
Weather played a major part in saving Australia at Lord’s, where Archer troubled their batsmen with extreme pace and bounce. It shouldn’t spoil proceedings in Leeds, except on the opening day when there is up to a 40 per cent chance of showers. That’s likely to settle down as the Test progresses, so we should get something resembling a full game.
Headingley has been a kind venue to Australia down the years – they have won four of their last five Tests here. Another one now would keep the Ashes in their possession and help them avoid a series defeat in England – a feat not achieved since 2001.
England (likely XI): Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Chris Woakes, Jack Leach, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad.
Australia (likely XI): Cameron Bancroft, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c/wk), Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon.
The Betfair Verdict
There are very few players in world cricket who can move betting markets on their own, but Steve Smith is one of them and layers on the Betfair Exchange wasted no time reacting to the confirmation of his absence on Tuesday.
Having traded at 1.9 (just short of evens) in the morning, England were backed in to 1.7 when the news emerged, with Australia pushed out to as a big as 3.35 (around 9/4). Now we know how important Smith is – and what a superstar-in-the-making the hosts have in the form of Jofra Archer – but is there that much between the sides?
England’s struggles at the top of the order remain and Marnus Labuschagne showed at Lord’s that he can be a decent enough deputy for the Aussie talisman. So, at such a big price, the tourists have to be the bet.
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