England and Australia resume their Ashes battle at Headingley on Thursday morning, ready to test the theory that Steve Smith is the difference between the two sides.
Smith is a notable absentee from the third Specsavers Test, having scored 378 runs in three innings before Jofra Archer’s 92mph bouncer left him with a concussion and possibly changed the course of the series.
Without his runs and resolute crease occupation, Australia’s 1-0 series lead might easily have been reversed and the hosts must now take advantage of his absence as they bid to level the score in Leeds.
The first matter of business will be a final concussion check of their own – batsman Jason Roy requiring a final check-up after being hit on the helmet by a throw down while netting on Tuesday.
His Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope has been summoned on a standby basis following his unbeaten double century against Hampshire, but England do not anticipate any change in Roy’s condition.
Assessing the momentum shift that Smith’s enforced absence appears to have brought, Root said: “They will be huge shoes to fill.
“You get these swings within a big series like this every now and again and when you get your opportunity you’ve got to jump on it.
“It is amazing how quickly things can turn around. You look where we were perceived to be at the end of the Edgbaston Test match and now coming into this one. Even though the scoreline says 1-0 down, it doesn’t feel that way at all.”
Root was quick to strike a note of empathy with Smith but also offered a gentle reminder that Australia are not alone in seeing one of their star performers injured at a crucial moment.
“Of course this is a huge series and it means so much to all our players, but it doesn’t mean that much in terms of someone getting seriously hurt and potentially ruining the rest of their life,” he said.
“There was a lot of concern in our dressing room for his health. It’s very unfortunate on their part but we had the challenge of Jimmy Anderson going down four overs into the first Test match and had to manage that without a replacement.”
As for Archer, last week’s Test debutant continues to win gushing praise at every turn.
Asked how the 24-year-old might cope now he is firmly in the spotlight, Root added: “He’s dealing with it pretty well, I think. He’s just a very relaxed character, unfazed by anything. He’s one of those guys who seem to be born for these occasions.”
Australia captain Tim Paine welcomed the sense of hype around the game and is confident his side are ready to take on Archer’s express pace.
“We’ve got to have a plan to counter that and I know our boys will. Everyone is going to be different, we’re all different players,” he said.
“When someone’s bowling fast and the crowd’s up and about it’s exciting, your adrenaline starts pumping. It’s exciting, I think it’s great for Test match cricket.
“I think the interest it’s sparked in the last week or 10 days has been great for the game and the people that have been watching it have thoroughly enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to the challenge again this week.”
Provided by Press Association Sports
Australia skipper Tim Paine is expecting the very best version of David Warner in the third Ashes Test against England at Headingley as the visitors look to cope in the absence of the injured Steve Smith.
Smith has been ruled out of the Leeds Test due to the concussion he picked up at Lord’s after being struck on the neck by a vicious Jofra Archer bouncer and his absence has increased the pressure on Warner who has so far failed to fire in the series.
Warner has been dismissed for single-digit scores in each of his four innings in the ongoing Ashes with the opening batsman’s struggles increasing the pressure on the rest of the batting order. Despite the southpaw’s horrendous form, Paine expects Smith’s absence to spur Warner into form at Leeds.
“Very confident,” Paine told cricket.com.au on the possibility of Warner returning to form.
“I’ve spoken a lot about the fact he averages close to fifty in Test cricket, and he’s done that over a long period of time. I think with Steve missing this game, it might be the little poke and prod that Davey needs.
“He likes that responsibility and my experience with Davey is when people doubt him and his back is against the wall, he comes out swinging. I’m expecting the very best David Warner this week.”
Smith’s absence will come as a big blow for Australia with the right-hander averaging 126 in the series after registering 378 runs in three innings and Warner will do well do fill those big boots when the third Ashes Test gets underway at Headingley on Thursday.
Three Tests will be played on Thursday at different corners of the world. In England, Australia will be looking to maintain their lead in the Ashes series after a hard-fought draw at Lord’s. Across the Arabian sea, Sri Lanka are on the verge of another memorable Test series win over a major nation; the Kiwis looking to do what South Africa couldn’t earlier in the year.
Meanwhile in the Caribbean, two explosive pace attacks will go head to head when world No1 India look to get the better of West Indies in a two-Test series. It’s the same Windies who stunned England earlier in the year.
Jofra Archer concussed Steve Smith out of Lord’s and now the Leeds Test. Otherwise, all top four Test batsmen in the world would have been in action on Thursday.
Even so, the three who will take the field on Thursday will have a lot of their minds, especially since they are captains as well.
Joe Root is not in a comfortable position, either as batsman or captain. The top-order stroke-player has seen his Test average steadily decline from above 50 to now in the 48s. A change in his back lift has made Root a prime target for lbw and bowled. So there’s that.
Plus almost the entire top six, or seven, of England’s batting line-up is in a constant state of shuffling. No one knows who should bat where and that greatly contributed to a Test series defeat in the Caribbean and now a 1-0 deficit in the Ashes.
Kiwi captain Kane Williamson had a horror Galle Test against Sri Lanka. Not only did he make 0 and four in an ultimately heavy defeat to the hosts, Williamson’s bowling action was also reported after the game.
After the high of an impressive World Cup campaign, the struggles in the first Test would be tough to swallow for the Kiwis. However, the second Test will be played at the P Sara Oval, a quicker pitch which should suit New Zealand’s style of play.
Which leaves us with Virat Kohli and his Indian team who will look to assert their No1 status at the start of their Test Championship. The Windies are a genuine threat at home, as England found out the hard way earlier in the year when they were shot out for 77 during a 2-1 series defeat.
Kohli has his own set of problems, although they are problems of plenty. Old guards Wriddhiman Saha and Ajinkya Rahane are fighting to stay relevant as challengers Rishabh Pant and Rohit Sharma fight for limited seats.
Also, the Windies are guaranteed to test India’s batting resolve on quick surfaces with the help of the extra zippy Dukes balls, like they did against the Englishmen. Since it’s a two-Test series between India and West Indies, 60 points will be on the line for each game, which means even the slightest mistake will set teams back a long way in the championship race.
Root, Williamson and Kohli are icons of our era. All three are truly great batsmen and inspirational captains. They have unique challenges facing them on Thursday. And given their record, you back all three to come up with a winning solution.