The Ashes is on a knife edge as the five-match series moves to the historic Old Trafford for the fourth and penultimate Test which begins on Wednesday.
A remarkable Ben Stokes innings at Headingley managed to keep the Ashes alive for the hosts with Australia coming close to retaining the historic urn on English soil for the first time since 2001.
It is still the visitors who are in the driving seat given the fact that they just need one win to retain the trophy but the momentum has shifted in England’s favour after the dramatic Test at Headingley.
England on a high
Confidence is soaring in the England camp after that one-wicket win and skipper Joe Root and pacer Stuart Broad have said as much ahead of the Manchester clash.
“When you come off a win like that it is a big lift for the whole squad,” Root stated on the eve of the fourth Test.
“For that game (Headingley) to unravel like it did and for us to turn up here full of confidence and very much alive in this series is… I thought the way we played the week before at Lord’s it started to feel like we were wrestling our way back into the series and we did a lot of good stuff there.”
“Obviously the momentum of that Test shifted and with that, the series,” Broad said on Monday.
“We’ve come here enjoying what happened last week but knowing it’s gone but not forgetting about it.”
Wounded Aussies looking to strike back
While England are confident that momentum has shifted in their favour, the Aussies have been left to lick their wounds for 10 days.
“I actually felt physically sick after it, then I went back to my room and I wasn’t sure whether to cry my eyes out or smash my hotel room,” coach Justin Langer stated in the aftermath of the third Ashes Test defeat.
“For most people it’s just a game of cricket, but when so much goes into it, it means a lot.”
Langer, however, has responded to fight fire with fire and has vowed a strong Australia response at Manchester.
“We felt a bit like we got the Ashes stolen the other day,” he said.
“Now we got to work out what we’re going to do and use that as fire. We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves and let it slip.”
Smith’s return looms large
One of the reasons for the Aussie camp to still feel emboldened after their Headingley defeat is the impending return of Steve Smith after the star batsman was forced to miss the clash with a concussion.
Smith has already slammed 378 runs in the series in just three innings and will return to the fold on Wednesday as the No1 ranked batsman in the world once again after reclaiming the title from Virat Kohli.
England have wasted no time in sending Smith a reminder about their plans against him with Jofra Archer set to be unleashed upon the Australian once again.
“First thing, it’s great Steve is OK and coming back into Test cricket but Test cricket is a brutal sport where countries go hell for leather against each other. I’m sure when Steve comes in, Jofra will be in Joe Root’s ear wanting the ball, no doubt about that,” Broad warned.
While England are hoping to use Archer’s steep bounce as a means to ruffle Smith’s feathers once again, Australia skipper Tim Paine is in no doubt that his compatriot is up for the fight.
“He’s been bounced a few times over the journey, teams have come up with all sorts of different plans,” Paine stated.
“It’s not new to him and I’ve said it before, that’s why he’s the best. He has found a way to deliver when he’s needed to and we are expecting the same Steve.
“He’s been hit in the body and arm and head hundreds of times in his career, nothing has changed.”
England (confirmed): Joe Denly, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Craig Overton, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach.
Australia: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
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