England will take heart from their Day 5 showing at Lords, but are still seeking to level the series as the two sides travel north to Headingley.
No end in sight to England’s batting woes
The emergence of Rory Burns has solved one of the troublesome top three positions but England’s frail top order once again was unconvincing at Lords. It is symptomatic of a muddled selection policy- with Trevor Bayliss saying this week that Jason Roy is “probably more suited to the middle order” and Ollie Pope, a middle order batsman, called up as Roy’s cover. The opener, who was a key man in England’s successful World Cup campaign, has just 117 runs from his six test innings and has struggled to convert his white ball form to the longest format.
Joe Root will hope that a return to his home ground- where he was in fine form for Yorkshire at the start of the County Championship- will bring a return to form, but problems with his technique and the weight of the captaincy hang over his head. Root has become prone to falling to the off side on occasion, and with a higher backlift than when he started his career he has gone from averaging 70+ off his pads to becoming a consistent LBW candidate.
There was some good news in the batting department for Root’s side, with the middle order picking up the slack at Lords. Jonny Bairstow’s first innings half century helped England reach the 250 mark and the Yorkshireman, under some scrutiny after a poor 18 months in test cricket, looked somewhere near to his best. Ben Stokes’s two-tone ton in the second innings, coming in at number five, put the game beyond Australia and he was ably supported by Jos Buttler, whose gritty 30 off 104 balls showed he has the resolve to play a long innings.
The fact remains that England, unlike Australia, do not have anyone in form and Root seems to have lost his talismanic aura. A good Headingly return for the number three could change the series on its head.
England’s bowling strength
Where there may be doubts about their batting, England boast a bowling attack with depth and quality even without leading man Jimmy Anderson. Jofra Archer’s explosive debut, combined with Stuart Broad’s resurgence since the start of 2018, mean that Root’s side will be confident of taking the game to a sans Steve Smith Australia. England have the option of drafting in Sam Curran for Chris Woakes, arguably underused in the first two tests, but no changes are expected.
Jack Leach’s accuracy in the first innings at Lords, and figures of 3-37 in the second, offer Root an excellent spin option particularly to the left handers in Australia’s middle order. Leach troubled Travis Head and Matthew Wade bowling into the rough, and Root showed a lot of trust in the left armer bowling him for 16 overs in the second innings- the most of any English bowler.
Looking ahead in the series, Moeen Ali’s excellent home record means he is surely likely to be in the selector’s minds- it is difficult to shake the suspicion the spinner will be brought back sooner rather than later. Elsewhere Toby Roland-Jones’s recent fine form for Middlesex in the County Championship would see him unlucky not be considered for the fourth and fifth tests, especially given his performances against South Africa two years ago.
Australia on the back foot
With Smith missing the third test after sustaining concussion at the hands of an Archer bouncer, England may sense blood. But it would be foolish to underestimate the tourists, particularly under times of duress, and in Marnus Labuschagne they have a replacement who looks up for the fight. His half century at Lords after being drafted in for Smith showed no little courage or skill, particularly as he himself was felled by an Archer rocket, and England will already be aware the man with over 1000 County Championship runs this summer is no pushover. A Smith-less Australia certainly looks an inviting prospect on what looks to be a green Headingly pitch, and no doubt Joe Root will be relieved at not seeing the former Aussie skipper walking in at four, but Labuschagne will present a stern test for the bowlers. England may find Australia not missing Smith as much as first thought.
England had concerns this week after Roy took a blow to the neck in the nets, with Pope - fresh from an unbeaten double century for Surrey against Hampshire - drafted in on standby in case Roy is deemed unfit. It seems unlikely Pope will be required, but in the event he is the assumption is that Joe Denly will open and the 21 year old will slot in at four. Meanwhile Anderson has come through a second XI game for Lancashire but the third test comes too soon for England’s all time leading wicket taker.
Likely XI: Roy, Burns, Root, Denly, Stokes, Buttler, Bairstow (WK), Woakes, Archer, Broad, Leach
Australia will have to contend with the loss of the world’s best test batsman, but in Labuschagne they have a replacement who has made plenty of runs in England this summer and has the aptitude and appetite to face hostile bowling and difficult runs. The tourists look set to stick with David Warner despite his struggles in the series so far. The big question revolves around the make up of their bowling attack, with rotation being the policy so far. Peter Siddle could be the man to miss out with the pace of Mitchell Starc or James Pattinson likely to come in, perhaps with a mind to exploiting the pace that a Headingly pitch usually offers. Starc is the favourite of the two to play.
Likely XI: Bancroft, Warner, Khawaja, Labuschagne, Head, Wade, Paine (WK), Cummins, Starc, Lyon, Hazlewood
What the captains say
Joe Root (Eng):
On Australia missing Steve Smith… “They will be huge shoes to fill. It’s very unfortunate on their part but we had the challenge with Jimmy Anderson going down injured in the first Test and had to manage without a replacement.”
Tim Paine (Aus):
On Marnus Labuschagne’s love of facing bouncers… “Marnus is strange, he seems to enjoy getting hit on the head, so he’s a different kettle of fish altogether.”