PARTAB RAMCHAND | 4 SEPTEMBER, 2019
Initiative with England but Some Pressure Too
The stage is then set for a pulsating game at Old Trafford.
Among the many positive aspects of Ben Stokes' brilliance at Headingley the most positive is the fact that the series is still open thanks mainly to his heroics. If Australia had won the third Test – as it seemed likely till Stoakes turned the game upside down with his pyrotechnics – they would have been two up with two to play and being the holders they would have retained the Ashes. Excitement around the high profile series would have dwindled and there would have at best been lukewarm interest in the two remaining matches.
How that one innings has changed Stokes’ life – and the Ashes contest! The series at 1 -1 is very much alive, interest already high has sky rocketed and there is much talk of 2019 being as pulsating as the memorable contest in 2005 in England when the home side regained the Ashes after losing eight straight Ashes series. There has been some high quality cricket seen on both sides epitomized by the deeds of Stoakes and Steve Smith and the teams are evenly matched symbolized by the fact that England are No 4 and Australia No 5 in the ICC rankings and there is every reason to believe that this contest could well go down to the wire.
All this does not hide the fact that both teams have problems on the eve of the fourth Test starting at Old Trafford on Wednesday. James Anderson has been ruled out of the series and while it certainly is a setback that England are without their most prolific wicket taker he may not be missed as much because a suitable replacement has been unearthed in the fiery Jofra Archer. Besides Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Stoakes have all performed admirably and the bowling has not really been England’s problem.
However the batting has been a major worry. There has hardly been a worthwhile contribution from as many as four frontline batsmen in Jason Roy, Johnny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Joe Denly and it is a tribute to the bowling – and Stoakes – that England are still very much in the contest. The selectors have not announced any changes but there is talk of the batting order being changed with Denly opening and Roy going down the order. It remains to be seen whether this tweaking will make any alteration in England’s beleaguered batting.
It is much the same scenario as far as Australia are concerned. The bowlers have performed heroically with Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon being outstanding. But on their side too several batsmen have failed all too often among them David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Bancroft and skipper Tim Paine himself. Warner is clearly the most serious problem for the left handed opener was expected to play a major role given his vast experience and reputation of dominating the bowlers with his explosive approach. But he has been able to muster up only 79 runs in six innings. Now that the selectors have axed Khawaja from the line-up for the fourth Test there will be a bit of tweaking as far as the batting order is concerned.
The Aussies however will welcome the return of Smith who had to miss the third Test recovering from the concussion he suffered in the previous game. With 378 runs from three innings including twin hundreds in the first Test Smith has been the outstanding batsman of the series and his value to the side is immeasurable particularly given the several batting failures.
The stage is then set for a pulsating game at Old Trafford. The initiative may be with England after their memorable triumph at Leeds but there is also some pressure on them. If Australia wins the fourth Test they retain the Ashes so it is up to England to keep the interest alive in the series till the final Test at the Oval next week.