A Ben Stokes special at Headingley managed to salvage England’s hopes in the ongoing Ashes series against Australia, but there remains plenty of work to be done for the hosts if they are to reclaim the historic urn.
With the series level at 1-1, Joe Root and his men will feel that the momentum has decisively shifted in their favour ahead of the fourth Test, they will, however, be mindful of Steve Smith’s ominously impending return for the visitors.
Besides Smith’s return, England will also be concerned by the several holes which still exists in the squad and were papered over by Stokes’ brilliance in the third Test.
Here, we take a look at three worrying signs which still exist for England heading into the fourth Test at Old Trafford.
Fitness concerns for Woakes?
While England have much to feel optimistic about after Jofra Archer’s fiery Test introduction, the news of veteran pacer James Anderson being ruled out for the remainder of the series will come as a bitter blow.
Anderson’s continued absence since the first Test will only further put the spotlight on Chris Woakes, whose bowling output in the series has been peculiarly low. The seaming all-rounder has particularly been underused with the ball in the second innings of all three clashes leading to suggestions that he might be carrying a niggle.
At Edgbaston, he bowled just 13 out of the 112 overs in the second innings while part-time spinners Joe Root and Joe Denly threw down 12 and 14 overs respectively.
Meanwhile at Lord’s, he was bafflingly given just three overs to bowl despite having a bowling average of 9.75 at the venue before the start of the series. His batting returns have also diminished significantly but England will still have to think twice before giving him a rest at this stage with Anderson’s injury blow.
Roy’s red-ball travails
The biggest talking point from England’s 12-man squad for the Old Trafford Test is the fact that Jason Roy has been retained despite his dismal displays.
The limited-overs stalwart’s technique has been put through a baptism by fire in his maiden Ashes series with the right-hander able to muster only 57 runs in his six innings so far.
That he still continues to retain the faith of the team management screams more about England’s lack of options in the opening positions than his vulnerability to the moving ball. The hosts are reportedly considering moving Joe Denly to opener for the Manchester Test with Roy dropping down to No4 but what change in the fortunes, if any, that move brings remains to be seen.
At the moment, Roy is looking like a walking wicket and Australia’s pacers will be licking their lips at the prospect of bowling to him again.
The Buttler dilemma
Roy’s miserable form along with Stokes’ brilliance has meant that Jos Buttler has escaped most of the spotlight despite the middle-order batsman currently undergoing a slump of his own.
Bar one decent outing of 31 with the bat in the second innings at Lord’s, the right-hander has done nothing of note in the Ashes and has become an increasing liability for the hosts.
Buttler’s five other innings in the series have aggregated just 24 runs with his excellence in 2018 in the Test format looking like a distant memory at the moment. England did have the option of bringing in young Ollie Pope for the fourth Test but the Surrey batsman has been ignored with selectors keeping their faith in Roy and Buttler for now.
The duo will need to repay that trust soon because it is only so long that Stokes can continue to bail out England from their batting mess.
FC Batting Average:— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 15, 2019
Jos Buttler - 32.47
Jofra Archer - 31.34#Ashes
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