The captivating Ashes battle between England and Australia resumes as the fourth Test begins at Old Trafford with Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Steve Smith ready to resume their starring roles.
The battle for the urn is locked at 1-1 with two games to play after Stokes’ heroics at Headingley pulled the hosts back from the cliff edge, a stunning unbeaten century guiding England to a one-wicket win that instantly earned its status as one of the greatest Tests in history.
Ordinarily, the chance to see the Durham all-rounder pick up where he left off – relentlessly raining sixes down on a wilting Australia attack – would be the only show in town, but this is no ordinary contest.
Instead, there will be equal intrigue on the resumption of the compelling tussle between Smith and Archer, the latter having been felled by a 92mph bouncer to the neck at Lord’s with a subsequent concussion ruling him out of the last match.
Not for the first time this summer, there is a palpable sense of excitement around the England side and Joe Root is eager to ride the wave.
“This is a very special week and a great opportunity for us to build on what was a fantastic win and carry that forward,” said the England captain.
“You come off a back win like that and it’s a big lift for the whole squad, for that game to unravel how it did and for us to turn up here full of confidence and very much alive in this series.
“Every ground we’ve been to we’ve been blessed with brilliant support. It’s been evident everywhere we’ve gone. Everyone wants to play in front of full stadiums and be a part of this.”
There is one new face in the home XI, with Somerset’s Craig Overton recalled 18 months after winning the last of his three caps.
He has not been in an England squad all year but takes Chris Woakes’ place in the side having also edged out Sam Curran, who has been an ever-present squad member without featuring against Australia.
It is, perhaps, notable that his first Test wicket was Smith – clean bowled by an inswinger in Adelaide – and Root has backed him to justify his call-up.
“He’s a competitor,” he said.
“You saw him come into Ashes cricket on debut and straight away he looked very much at home and got himself in a battle. I’m expecting him to do just that this week.
“The extra bounce of a taller bowler gives us a different option on a ground that does perform slightly differently. He’s got good control, good skills and moves the ball off the straight. I expect him to cause some issues for the Australian batters.”
Visiting captain Tim Paine, meanwhile, has admitted he has spent nights wondering how to combat Stokes’ brilliance.
Asked if he feared for his future as captain should England complete their comeback and win the series, he said: “No, I haven’t lost a hell of a lot of sleep thinking about my captaincy but I have lost a bit of sleep thinking how we’re going to get him (Stokes) out, that’s for sure.
“He’s a class player and he’s really confident at the moment. He’s going well. We’ve got some plans for him but we’ve just got to execute them a bit better.”
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