The Lord’s Test between England and Australia ended in a thrilling draw, but the ramifications of that clash will still be felt greatly when the two historic rivals lock horns again in the third Ashes Test at Headingley beginning on Thursday.
The visitors are one win away from retaining the Ashes urn after just about preserving their 1-0 lead in the five-match series but they will have to cope with the absence of the talismanic Steve Smith at Leeds with concussion ruling the right-hander out of the clash.
As such, England will feel it is their best chance to restore parity in the series as the Ashes returns to Headingley for the first time in over a decade.
Momentum shift with England
While the Aussies will be relieved to have come away from Lord’s with their series lead still intact, the tide has very much turned in England’s favour ahead of the third Test and it is the hosts who will believe they have the wind on their backs.
They came agonisingly close to winning the second Test despite the numerous overs lost due to rain and the absence of Smith will only serve to bolster their hopes further.
The Australian batsman alone has contributed 378 runs in just three innings and has scored more than 150 runs than the second highest run-getter (Rory Burns) in the series.
Despite the horrific nature of Smith’s injury, England will be delighted that they do not have to face him at Headingley and they will be further emboldened by the debut showing of Jofra Archer at Lord’s.
The Barbados-born pacer bowled some devastating and hostile spells at Lord’s which also resulted in Smith’s nasty injury and his emergence will give England plenty of confidence despite the continued absence of veteran James Anderson.
Spotlight falls on Australia’s misfiring top-order
Smith’s absence might send spirits soaring in the England camp but it could not have come at a worse time for the visitors whose top-order has misfired all series.
“It’s always a blow, no doubt about that,” head coach Justin Langer said on Smith’s injury.
“If you take your best players out it always has an impact so we have got to make sure that all the other guys, our senior players and our younger players, all step up and fill what are almost unfillable shoes as he is almost the best player in the world.”
What Langer will want most desperately is for his top-three to step up in Smith’s absence after what has been a dismal showing by them in the two matches. David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja have so far aggregated just 64 runs between them and the spotlight will very much be on them at Leeds.
Smith’s official concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne scored a gritty 59 in the second innings to earn Australia a draw at Lord’s and the right-hander will most definitely keep his place in the squad after that display.
Australia’s pace dilemma
Replacing Smith’s runs is not the only headache being faced by Langer and the Australian team management who also need to do a fine balancing act in the pace department. Pat Cummins and Peter Siddle have been the two pacers to play in both Tests so far while James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood have featured in one each.
Meanwhile, the 2019 World Cup’s leading wicket-taker Mitchell Starc is yet to get a game and is looking likely to miss out once again while Michael Neser also waits in the wings. The visitors will be wary of giving Cummins a rest at this stage with the No1 ranked pacer leading the Ashes wicket-taking charts with 13 scalps while Siddle has been a reliable third seamer. There is, however, every likelihood that Pattinson returns to playing XI after sitting out the Lord’s clash.
Which pacers Australia lines up with at Leeds remains to be seen but what is certain is that captain Tim Paine will not be wanting to engage in a ‘bouncer war’ with England following Archer’s fiery showing at Lord’s.
“We know what our plans are to beat England. What we’re not going to do is get caught up an emotional battle of who’s going to bowl the quickest bouncers,” Langer said.
“We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many helmets we can hit.”
England: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad.
Australia: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c and wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle.
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