18 July 2023

Can England beat the weather to level Ashes series? Fourth Test talking points

18 July 2023

The men’s Ashes is tantalisingly poised with Australia 2-1 ahead with two to play and England on the up after a stirring victory at Headingley.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the key issues ahead of the fourth Test.

Eyes on the skies

While it is never wise to stick too slavishly to the British weather forecast, it is impossible to ignore the likelihood of rain intervening in this match. Showers are predicted to play a part throughout but there is a particular concern over the weekend, when things are set to get extremely wet. That could play into Australia’s hands given a drawn match would see them retain the urn. England, on the other hand, need two more victories to win it back and are likely to be open to generating a result even if it means taking a gamble. With different motivations it remains to be seen whether there will be enough time and enough will to reach a fitting conclusion.

Australia to bin the spin?

The tourists are leaving it late to settle an unexpected selection quandary, with first-choice all-rounder Cameron Green fit again after Headingley and his temporary stand-in Mitchell Marsh effectively undroppable with a brilliant century as understudy. There was speculation that off-form opener David Warner could be the man to make way but it increasingly seems that spinner Todd Murphy is the man at risk. Australia have not gone into a Test without a frontline slow bowler since January 2012 but with Nathan Lyon injured and his deputy considered more dispensable they are pondering a significant change to the balance of their side. Deploying Green and Marsh would bolster their batting and make them harder to bowl out twice but leave their options in the field much diminished.

Three is the Moeen number

The number three position has caused plenty of headaches for England over the years and familiar questions resurfaced when incumbent Ollie Pope dislocated his shoulder at Lord’s. After a one-innings experiment with Harry Brook, Moeen Ali volunteered for a surprise promotion in the Headingley chase. Despite being bowled for just five he has now been inked in at first drop, allowing the likes of Brook, Joe Root and Ben Stokes to bat in their preferred positions lower down. It is a big ask for the all-rounder, who initially agreed to return from retirement as a number eight and averages 15.75 from his four knocks this summer, but this England side are not averse to a gamble.

Age concern for England?

When it comes to taking wickets England have made sure they will not lack for experience in Manchester. Their five main bowlers for this Test have a combined age of 180, with James Anderson returning to the fray less than a fortnight before his 41st birthday. Their side is the first to go into an Ashes Test with four pace bowlers aged 33 or above since the Australian class of 1928, but few England fans would argue with the composition of the attack on current form. Moeen suggested the hosts are hoping to prove the adage that “old is gold” and Anderson would love nothing more than making that point. He has never taken a Test five-for at his home ground and is unlikely to have too many more shots at the honours’ board.

Will Jonny be good

England have rowed in hard behind Jonny Bairstow as wicketkeeper, rendering Ben Foakes’ imperious glovework surplus to requirements. Bairstow has had an eventful series as he continues to feel his way back from a badly broken leg – locking horns with a Just Stop Oil protester, being controversially stumped by Alex Carey and facing constant scrutiny over his keeping. But the bare facts are that he has let eight chances pass him by. That has materially hindered England’s prospects and nobody will know better than him that he needs to reach a higher level this week. He has a long track record of performing best when under pressure and his fight-or-flight response will be needed again.

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