England v Australia
Third Test, Old Trafford, Manchester
Thursday Aug 1 - Monday Aug 5, 11:00BST
Live Stream: Sky Sports 2
TV info: Sky Sports 2, 10:00 - 19:00BST, highlights Channel 5, 19:00 – 20:00BST
Thursday morning sees the start of the third Ashes Test between England and Australia at a new-look Old Trafford, with Manchester hosting its first Test match for three years. If Alastair Cook’s men avoid defeat they will retain the Ashes.
The home side are in uncharted territory at present. They currently hold such a dominant lead that were they to seal the five-match contest in Manchester, then it would be the first time since 1928/29 that they had got their hands on the famous old urn after only the third game of the series.
However, former England captain Andrew Strauss believes England must learn from what happened in 2009, when they entered the fourth Test of that home series also knowing a win would secure the Ashes, only to be thrashed by a mammoth innings and 80 runs.
Either way, we surely have in store yet another action-packed five days of high-intensity Test-match cricket, especially as Michael Clarke’s side know that nothing less than a win will keep the series alive.
And with the weather pretty much set fair for the duration of the game, give or take a few predicted isolated showers that is, we might even be treated to a repeat of the classic contest that took place between these arch rivals the last time they met on this ground eight years ago (see below video).
On that occasion, Ricky Ponting’s men were forced to survive four overs on the final evening, with just one wicket in hand and with No. 11 Glenn McGrath at the wicket. The tailender managed to survive in partnership with fellow paceman Brett Lee to earn a thrilling draw.
However, this is a very different Australia side to that legendary, all-conquering outfit of 2005, as the current series scoreline suggests, and as the teams gathered on Monday night to begin preparations for this Test, there were still plenty of intriguing selection dilemmas for each side to sort out.
The tourists will be forced to make at least one alteration to the 11 that were thrashed by a whopping 347 runs at Lord’s last week—Australia’s second heaviest loss to England in terms of runs—after fast bowler James Pattinson returned home with a stress fracture to his lower back. Either left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc or Jackson Bird is in line to take his place.
But that may not be the only change that recently-appointed head coach Darren Lehmann makes come the toss on Thursday morning, with off-spinner Nathan Lyon set to come in for Ashton Agar, while yet another reshuffle to the batting lineup is also rumoured to be on the cards now that explosive opening batsman David Warner has found some much-needed time out in the middle in Zimbabwe and South Africa recently.
The big-hitting New South Wales left hander is likely to replace either Chris Rogers at the top of the order and resume his previous opening partnership with Shane Watson, or, as many are suggesting, he will slip down the order to take over from Phil Hughes, but coming in at No. 6 reportedly.
Either way, it appears Australia are banking on the 26-year-old playing one of those devastating knocks that he is renowned for, one which could take the game away from England at any second and help the Australians avoid the ignominy of a record-equalling seventh Test defeat in a row.
England, by contrast, have no such selection headaches to worry about, other than the calf strain picked up by batsman Kevin Pietersen at the home of cricket that meant the Surrey man could not take the field for Australia’s second innings.
Noises coming out of the England camp recently though are suggesting that the South Africa-born No. 4 has been making good progress in his recovery and should take his place in an unchanged XI.
However, if he were to fail a fitness test on his calf on Thursday morning, then Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor, who hit an unbeaten 121 for his adopted county Sussex against the tourists at the weekend in the drawn warm-up ahead of the third Test, would simply slip into Pietersen’s place in the middle order.
Other than that, England head coach Andy Flower has seemingly covered all possible bases in terms of the Old Trafford pitch by calling up giant Surrey paceman Chris Tremlett and Sussex left-arm spinner Monty Panesar to England’s 14-man squad. Although that was announced on Sunday. it would be a major surprise if either played in Manchester, whatever the condition of the square.
Lancashire left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan may have snared an impressive 12-wicket haul against Glamorgan at Old Trafford earlier this month, but director of cricket Mike Watkinson has played down expectations that the third Test pitch will be a subcontinental dust bowl this week.
But given the recent heat wave in the country, there should be both turn and bounce for the tweakers—which should encourage England off-spinner Graeme Swann—as well as plenty of reverse swing for the pace bowlers due to the abrasive nature of the outfield. If so, expect the series' leading wicket-taker James Anderson to enjoy his first-ever Ashes appearance on his home ground.
And with so much riding on the outcome of the Test for both sets of players during the five scheduled days, this is a showdown not to be missed.