Ashes 2019: A tale of two misfiring batting units even if Steve Smith operates on another planet

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Both Warner and Root have been out of form.

The drama surrounding the Lord’s Test is yet to subside but all eyes are already fixated on the third Ashes Test between England and Australia which gets under way at Headingley on Thursday.

A Test which will be largely by remembered for the gripping duel between Steve Smith and Jofra Archer on day four saw the visitors just about hold on for a tense draw to preserve their 1-0 lead in the five-match series.

In the end, Smith scored a crucial 92 runs but not before he was floored by a nasty Archer bouncer that nearly took his head off. That vicious blow means there is now a big question mark surrounding his availability for the Headingley clash with concussion injuries always being a tricky one to navigate.

Whether or not Smith is passed fit remains to be seen but there is no denying that the former Australia skipper has been the key difference between the two old foes in the series so far.

Smith has been in a league of his own among batsmen from both teams in the two Tests, with the right-hander’s run-tally now extending to 378 at an average of 126. However, while Smith might be churning out runs at a rate second only to the great Don Bradman, the rest of the batting fraternity across the two sides haven’t covered themselves in glory.

That only six batsmen in total, including Smith, have managed to score at least 100 runs in the four innings so far is a damning statement for the rest of the supporting cast from both sides.

Smith’s battle with Joe Root was always going to be a decisive one in the series but the England skipper has so far failed to even arrive at the race while the Aussie has been turning out the runs like a machine.

Root started the series with a promising half-century at Edgbaston but has faded quickly ever since and scored just four runs in two innings at Lord’s. The right-hander, however, is not the only worry for England in the top-order with Jason Roy looking like a fish out of water on his Ashes debut.

The England opener has mustered just 40 runs in four innings in the series with his technique being horribly exposed by Australia’s pacers. Roy’s average of 10 is only better than James Anderson and Jack Leach for England, and the Surrey slugger’s head will definitely be on the chopping block at Headingley should another failure ensue.

Meanwhile, Joe Denly has looked good for a start in every innings but the top-order batsman has simply struggled to go beyond the 30-run mark on each occasion.

Things are not that great in the England middle-order either despite the slight return to form for Jonny Bairstow, with Jos Buttler struggling to replicate his 2018 success. Buttler is averaging less than 13 in the series with his dismal form adding to England’s frailties with the bat.

While England’s batting does not inspire much confidence at the moment, their Australian counterparts have not been much better themselves despite the individual brilliance of Smith.

The top-three of David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja have contributed just 64 runs between them in the two Tests and that has only increased the burden on Smith to do the bulk of the scoring.

In fact, Test cricket’s first-ever concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne has looked the second most assured Aussie batsman after Smith with his 59-run knock in the second innings at Lord’s earning the Baggy Green a draw.

Travis Head has shown some promise with his battling knock at Lord’s but Matthew Wade has scored only eight runs in his three other outings at the crease after scoring a brilliant century in the second innings at Edgbaston.

Down the order, skipper Tim Paine has been dismal with the bat just like his England counterpart Root, with the Australia wicketkeeper registering just 18 runs so far.

It has very much been a case of two misfiring batting units versus two excellent bowling attacks in the Ashes this year with Smith’s stellar form proving the decisive difference.

Smith might have found a worthy adversary now in the form of Archer but how the rest of the supporting cast perform in the remaining three Tests will very well decide the fate of who the famous urn goes to.

Smith and Archer have laid down the gauntlet but where the Ashes ultimately ends up will ultimately come down to the Roots and the Warners of the two teams.

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