England vs Australia Second Test Preview
(Photo: Getty Images/Ryan Pierse)

England vs Australia Second Test Preview

The pressure is on Joe Root's men as they look to level the series but they will have to stop a rampant Steve Smith. 

Louie Elmer

England head into the second test desperately seeking a victory to boost their chances of regaining the Urn, but will the weather let them?

Can Joe Root’s side fix their batting woes?

England could have been forgiven for thinking their top three woes were somewhat remedied after the first innings at Edgbaston, with Rory Burns making a gritty hundred and Joe Root a fifty after moving back to number three. Indeed it was the middle order than largely underperformed. However, the second innings, where England never looked like batting the day out, exposed their frailties once more and the tourists made a mockery of the 'Fortress Edgbaston' moniker.

The middle-order needs to step up, with Jonny Bairstow’s poor form over the past two years beginning to attract attention as Ben Foakes waits in the wings for a recall. Jos Buttler no longer has the security of the vice-captaincy and must earn his spot in the team - though an average of 40 since his return last summer means he is unlikely to be the first on the chopping block.

Bouncing back

England under Trevor Bayliss have made a habit of starting test series slowly before bouncing back in style and will need to draw on that to drag themselves back into the series. England’s last game at Lords was against Ireland in a ridiculous match that had Jack Leach as the top run-scorer.

What will encourage England is Chris Woakes’s fantastic record at Lords, averaging less than ten with the ball, as well as Root’s good batting record there.

What will discourage England is their poor record against Australia at Lords - which plays the most similar to the flat decks found down under - as well as the rain predicted on four out of the five days. England were hammered at Lords in 2015 but had won the first Test at Cardiff, and now face the prospect of the second test being a must-win. The pressure is increased by the poor forecast, meaning England will have to play out of their skins to force a result.

It has been interesting to observe in the build-up to the game that England, far from their usual reserved selves, have been particularly bullish in the media.

Root himself has put the pressure on his side to bounce back after the first test, saying he 'expects a big response' pointing to England’s record of not losing back to back home tests in 11 years.

The Steve Smith conundrum

After Steve Smith’s twin centuries at Edgbaston, England could be forgiven for almost not wanting to get Australia two down. Wickets come, and with that so does Smith, and with Smith comes a mountain of runs. Life, death, and Steve Smith flicking through midwicket to bring up a third century in a row.

Is he as unstoppable as he appears? Of course not. The former Australian captain played and missed an awful lot in his first innings, though that was overshadowed by Rory Burns seemingly having a hole in the middle of his bat, and Michael Atherton on Sky Sports did a fantastic third man piece pointing out where England show bowl to Smith.

The fact is, Smith’s weakness is the same as every batsman. Bowl a good length on a fourth or even fifth stump line, and he will not be that comfortable with it. Granted, he still averages about 32 on balls in that area, but if England get Smith out for 32 they will be very happy indeed. Combined with the inclusion of Jofra Archer, who will trouble Smith with his high release point more than his pace, and England should have reason to think they will fare better than they did in the first test. Jack Leach is another expected recall whose left-arm spin could be key, with the Australian number four averaging just under 35 against left-arm finger spin.

Team news

England: James Anderson is out with a recurrence of a calf injury picked up at the start of July, with Jofra Archer expected to make his test debut in place of England’s all-time leading wicket-taker. Moeen Ali has been dropped and Jack Leach could be set to make his Ashes bow.

Predicted England XI: Roy, Burns, Root, Denly, Buttler, Stokes, Bairstow (WK), Woakes, Archer, Leach, Broad. S Curran (12th man)

Australia: James Pattinson, impressive at Edgbaston, is left out of the 12 man squad- with an eye on the rest of the series, according to Tim Paine. The captain has options a-plenty, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc both gunning to replace Pattinson. Peter Siddle may be the unlucky man left out of the final 11 as Paine may opt for extra pace at Lords.

Predicted Australia XI: Bancroft, Warner, Khawaja, Smith, Head, Wade, Paine (WK), Cummins, Starc, Lyon, Hazlewood.

What the captains say:

Joe Root:

On getting Steve Smith out: “When we go to a plan, we’ve got to be really ruthless with it and stick to it. [And also] to make sure if we’re not getting him out, we’re containing him and building pressure on him at the other end. I’m expecting a big response from the boys this time around.”

Tim Paine:

On playing at Lords: “It is also a venue where teams love to come and play because you are in London for one, one of the great cities and when you are at Lord’s you get really spoilt. Off-field the facilities are brilliant, it’s always a great time for a touring team the week you spend in London and at Lord’s.”