By Kieran Wellington
- Jofra Archer’s fearsome bouncers have ruled out Australian key man Steve Smith – now can he and the rest of England’s bowlers take 20 wickets?
- Jason Roy’s position at the top of the order looking vulnerable, with Surrey teammate Ollie Pope having been called up as cover for the World Cup winner
- Aussie captain Tim Paine confirms concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne will start, but relative rookie needs platform via out of form openers
HEADINGLEY, LEEDS – As Headingley hosts the crucial third Ashes Test with some notable absentees, can England’s quicks’ dominate with ball over bat in Yorkshire?
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After the rather hazy realisation that an England bowler actually bowled 96.1mph – say what you like about a textbook cover drive or a picture-perfect seam presentation – the finest sight in cricket is a fast bowler in full flight, without question. Jofra Archer has completely shifted the momentum of a series that England still find themselves behind in after last Sunday’s tense draw at Lords, but thanks to the Barbados-born quick – on Test debut last week, let’s not forget – Australia’s lynch-pin Steve Smith has been dislodged from the touring side by brute force as he continues his recovery from a delayed concussion, from which we all hope he makes a full recovery – sarcasm aside.
Without Smith’s startling Ashes record – he is averaging a scarcely believable 126 in this series so far and has five Ashes hundreds in the last seven matches – England will be touted as hot favourites to level the series.
The intrigue at Headingley will come from how Australia react to the loss of Smith (their next highest scorer in this series is Travis Head, a full 243 runs behind the former Aussie skipper so far) and how the hosts will handle the pressure of having the perfect opportunity to level the series. It is worth noting that Australia now only need one win to retain the precious urn: all the emphasis is on Trevor Bayliss‘ side to perform.
Pace will rule at Headingley
England’s 693rd representative in Test cricket; Archer. And, going by his average speeds at Lord’s, the quickest. The Barbadian paceman has transformed England’s bowling attack, lambasted for being utterly one-dimensional down under in 2017/18, into an outfit that will challenge the best batsmen in the world in all conditions.
Joe Root‘s faith in the World Cup super-over hero was evident, as the Sussex man ended up getting through 44 overs on Test debut, and bowled with great discipline as well as with great intimidation, which can often get overlooked. Archer isn’t just lightning-quick, he is in total control of his bowling action right now, as his economy of 2.07 proves.
As the Ashes bandwagon rolls into Yorkshire this week – with better weather forecast than London offered, which ultimately decided the result – the plethora of pace bowlers that will be on show are already licking their lips. Despite the unusual amount of sunshine up north, what won’t change from the norm is the barrage of wickets that will be taken by pace this week.
One only has to look at the players with the most wickets at Leeds to see how the best pace bowlers view the Headingley pitch as manna from heaven. The top six wicket takers there are Fred Trueman, Stuart Broad, Bob Willis, James Anderson, Ian Botham and Darren Gough. The cream always rises to the top here, so expect Archer, Broad and Chris Woakes for England and Pat Cummins and co. for the Aussies to make some serious headway into the pair of vulnerable batting lineups.
Frail top orders need to prove worth
Well aware of the advantageous conditions for the quicks at Headingley, both sides’ opening partnerships must be quaking in their boots at the prospect of setting a foundation on which to build. Jason Roy is already being deemed a failure in an ever increasing line of failed openers following Andrew Strauss‘ retirement; Roy’s average of 10 so far means he has scored at a worse rate than Broad, who is nothing more than a swisher with the bat any more. Broad shares a similarity with Roy in that sense, who has absolutely none of the required mental attributes to succeed as a Test opener. His performances have even led coach Bayliss to concede Roy is batting in the wrong position:
“Personally I think he probably is suited to the middle order but we’ve selected him in the top of the order because of his form in the one-day team. It hasn’t worked yet but he can easily come out and blast a quick hundred. Long term he’s more middle order. He’d feel more comfortable there but he’s doing a job for the team at the moment.”
Bayliss’ candid admission is a damning indictment of the amount of options available to the England selectors in such a key position – and Roy may be sacrificing his long-term Test career if he fails to adapt to the excruciating examination being an Ashes opener subjects a player to. His opening partner and best mate Rory Burns, however, has sealed his position for the foreseeable, and thanks to Smith’s injury will be the man with the most series runs to take to the field at Headingley.
However, if England have had a lingering problem at the top of the order, Australia’s predicament is a whole lot worse right now. David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, both on their return from the acrimony of sandpaper-gate, have amassed opening stands of 2, 13, 11 and 13 so far. That means the average first wicket partnership for Australia so far has been 9.75 – their lowest in any Ashes series in the last 90 years and the lowest in any series this century.
Although their batting lineup is already going to be unsettled by the absence of Smith, a change in fortunes at the top must come about from a change in personnel. Bancroft’s technique is clearly fallible at this highest level, and Warner’s record in England is distinctly average for such a high-class operator. The Aussie hierarchy should look towards Marcus Harris for Leeds, who has scored three centuries in his last eight first-class games.
Persisting with a failed formula at the top of the innings would just give Broad, Archer and the rest of the England attack an extra spring in their step that the Australians can’t afford to give to such a potent pace quartet in what should be favourable conditions. Australia must start well, especially if they bat first this time round, or else this match may well be over by Saturday night, and their hard-fought advantage wiped out in the blink of an eye.
The third 2019 Ashes Test begins on Thursday morning at Headingley, Leeds, with the first ball at 11am UK time.
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