England and Australia are gearing up for the fourth Test of what has been a truly unbelievable renewal of the Ashes.
England haven’t got their hands on the urn since they won it on home soil in 2015, but their recent performances under coach Brendon McCullum — whose exciting style of play has been branded ‘Bazball’ by the affectionate Barmy Army — meant the hosts entered the 2023 Series as the favourites in the Ashes betting.
It would be foolish to rule out a side as capable of Australia though and Pat Cummings and company proved that as they flew into a 2-0 lead in the Series with wins at Edgbaston and Lord’s respectively. That meant England needed a win at Headingley to keep their hopes alive last time out and they finally delivered with an albeit nervy three-wicket win in West Yorkshire.
Australia are still firmly in the driving seat though, with just a win or a draw needed from the final two Tests at Old Trafford and the Oval to retain the Ashes for the fifth time in succession. This Series has been full of surprises though and anything could happen in Manchester and London.
With anticipation building for the penultimate test, let’s take a look at some of the talking points ahead of play at Old Trafford.
Is momentum swinging in England’s favour?
Coming back from 2-0 down in an Ashes Series is no easy feat. In fact, just one side has ever accomplished it in the prestigious event’s storied history — and that was Australia back in 1936/37. But that win at Headingley has provided England with a glimmer of hope that it isn’t over just yet.
If momentum has swung in their favour, then the hosts have every chance of using that drive along with the home crowd advantage to level the Series at Old Trafford and go to the Oval with it all to play for at the end of the month.
England stick with Jonny Bairstow
Captain Ben Stokes and McCullum didn’t shy away from making changes for the last Test in Yorkshire, replacing veteran Jimmy Anderson and Joshua Tongue with Chris Woakes and Mark Wood — which proved to be an inspired move as the pair took 12 wickets across the course of the two innings, while they both also scored important runs in the lower order.
But calls for Jonny Bairstow to be dropped at Old Trafford have been ignored by the decision-makers despite the fact the wicketkeeper has arguably been underperforming throughout the Series — most recently dropping three catches behind the stumps and scoring just 17 runs across both innings at Headingley. Faith has been maintained, but the pressure is on Bairstow to deliver now.
Joe Root at three?
While the England line-up remains unchanged after their win in Leeds, Stokes and McCullum still have a big decision to make when it comes to picking their best batting order. Regular number three batter and vice-captain Ollie Pope sustained a Series-ending shoulder injury at Lord’s and both Harry Brook and Moeen Ali flattered to deceive in the top order — scoring three and five when following on from the openers.
That has left pundits and fans alike claiming that Joe Root should be pushed up the order from fourth to third. There’s no question that the 32-year-old is capable of batting one up the order — he is one of the best players in the world, after all. However, his average is much better at four and England might not risk the move as they need key players like Root to perform to the best of their abilities at Old Trafford — where the former England captain scored his career-best tally of 254 against Pakistan in 2016.