Australia have it, but they’ve lost momentum. What changes could they make for the Oval?
McGlashan: ‘Australia knows they’re out of jail’
Rain has denied England the chance to win the 2023 Ashes, reports Andrew McGlashan from Manchester.
Manchester weather saved Australia and retained the Ashes again. Their wins in the first two Tests earned them the right to be in this spot, but they head to The Oval needing a win to say with any conviction that they were the better side. A drawn series will leave many questions. Here are some areas they should consider before the final test.
David Warner holds on
Is two unconverted starts more of a problem than falling cheaply twice, as David Warner did at Headingley? It remains a long shot that he will lose his place in this series – the selectors have passed a point of no return in that regard – but he is more likely to have a big finish to his Test career. That double century against South Africa is even further out.
Not Stuart Broad at Old Trafford, but Chris Woakes for both innings. On the first day he fell behind (from over the wicket rather than Broad’s round-the-wicket line) and on the third day pulled the ball to his stumps, left in two minds whether to play or leave. If he has a lean Test at the Oval, it could raise the possibility that Australia’s selectors will make a decision at the start of the home season against Pakistan, rather than waiting for the West Indies in January.
Todd Murphy’s value grows in his absence
The loss of Nathan Lyon in the middle of the Lord’s Test always looked like it would be a big blow for Australia, and it has been increasing day by day, however his absence at the end of the second Test proved crucial. But surely Australia cannot go into another Test without a top spinner? Their attack at Old Trafford looked one-dimensional and England’s batsmen were dispatched by Travis Head’s offspin. That could happen to Todd Murphy too, but Australia need to back their specialist spinner. So how will he get into the side is a question.
Unless Mitchell Marsh has played three crucial innings in his four innings and suffers no more than the stiffness that kept him off the field on day three, Cameron Green is the most vulnerable after struggling in the first innings before falling to a borderline lbw decision against Woakes. He couldn’t find any flow throughout the series, averaging 20.60 with the bat. However, the selectors are very keen to keep him in the team.
Australia’s Big Three Mistakes
Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins ran riot at Old Trafford: between them they conceded 392 runs at 5.22. They are not bad bowlers, of course, and the same trio can easily line up at the Oval, but it is worth wondering if a different combination is worth it.
Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounds the workload of Cummins, the only paceman to play all five Tests so far in a tour that began in the World Test Championship final against India. He made it clear from the start that he believed he could play at six, and not featuring the captain is almost impossible, but that could push him to his limits.
Meanwhile, Starc shrugged off a shoulder concern and Hazlewood took a five-wicket haul after getting out heavily on day two. The selectors may be reluctant to bring back Scott Boland as England have also dominated this series. Michael Nesser, who was included in the squad earlier in the tour, remains unused and has an excellent record in county cricket – including in recent weeks, at Bat.
Sitting back to baseball
More broadly, it is perhaps Australia’s strategies that deserve attention. They set their stall to avoid being dragged into playing England at their own game and enter the final Test with the trophy retained in this country for the second time in four years. Their approach has been vindicated in the first two Tests, albeit by a narrow margin at Edgbaston, but cracks have emerged and they looked particularly passive at Old Trafford.
“Has baseball scared Australia?”, asked Jason Gillespie in his question Sunday Mail column “A number of Australian players have insisted in interviews that they will play their way and focus on what they can do. But what we’ve seen are reactionary plans to England’s style of play. If Australia focus on what they do well, we won’t see these defensive fields and rough bouncer plans.”
It was Cummins’ toughest haul as captain on day two, when Zach Crawley plundered his 189. That doesn’t mean they have to copy what Ben Stokes and England are doing – they are the world Test champions, so their game in this format is in good order – but can they play a more lively game in the final Test? However, the flip side they can offer is that they could have been 3-0 up at Headingley with a bit more batting restraint. Either way, the legacy this team wanted – to leave England with a series win – remains in the final Test.
Andrew McGlashan is deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo