|Men’s Ashes 2019: England v Australia, second Specsavers Test|
|Venue: Lord’s Dates: 14-18 August Start time: 11:00 BST|
Granted, the first Ashes Test did not end well for England, just as five of the previous six Tests against Australia had gone the way of the men in baggy green caps.
There were extenuating circumstances at Edgbaston, mind. Playing almost the entire match with only 10 men because their all-time leading wicket-taker once again went in the calf did not help Joe Root’s side.
So let’s not consider that another defeat at Lord’s will have the urn in the departure lounge for a return down under, but instead channel the spirit of 1981 and 2005, when famous England series wins came after a loss in the first Test.
There are reasons to be cheerful…
Being careful not to downplay the impact on England’s attack of the aforementioned injury to James Anderson, the home side are about to welcome their most anticipated Test debutant since Graeme Hick.
Four months after qualifying to play for England, the pace bowler was trusted to bowl the super over in the World Cup final. That he delivered the goods was down to an education in the highest-profile Twenty20 leagues.
Not only that, but Archer brings a much-needed point of difference to England’s bowling. Eighteen months after seeing Steve Smith feast on a diet of right-arm fast-medium and off-spin, England picked four right-arm fast-medium bowlers and an off-spinner at Edgbaston. It is little wonder Smith cashed in again.
Archer has the 90mph pace England are crying out for and can also make the red ball talk (search the internet for videos of his bowling in the County Championship). Along with left-arm spinner Jack Leach and maybe even the left-arm swing of Sam Curran, England’s bowling is instantly looking if not better, then certainly more varied.
Maybe it’s wrong to place too many hopes on the shoulders of a man who has never played Test Cricket before. But if anyone can make an instant impact, it’s Jofra Archer.
Woakes is the lord of Lord’s
Chris Woakes has endured his fair share a Smith-shaped suffering. He made his debut in the Test that Smith scored his maiden century, then managed to dismiss the batting phenomenon just once on the last tour down under, when his wickets cost 49 apiece.
Woakes at least got his man at Edgbaston, but by that time Smith had 286 runs in the match.
At Lord’s, though, Woakes is a different beast. In fact, if Smith’s batting is currently drawing comparisons to the great Sir Donald Bradman, if anyone in the future has a good game at Lord’s, people will say they have ‘done a Woakes’.
No-one to have taken at least 20 Test wickets at the home of Cricket has done it more cheaply than Woakes, whose 24 victims have come at 9.75 runs apiece.
It is the fourth best bowling average at a single venue of any bowler in Test history and the three better were all playing more than 70 years ago.
On top of that, Woakes is one of only five men to have scored a century at Lord’s, as well as taking five wickets in an innings and 10 in a match.
If the Brummie Botham continues that sort of form this week, there’s a great chance of England levelling the series and Lord’s changing the name of the Grace Gates to the Woakes Gates.
Smith is due a failure
At the moment, Smith is to the England Cricket team what Lord Voldemort is to Hogwarts. A name that must not be spoken, a batsman whose evil powers cannot be matched by those on the side of good.
The numbers back it up, too. Of Australians to have scored more than 1,000 Ashes runs, only Bradman can better Smith’s average of 60.84.
However, when he walks out to bat at Lord’s, no doubt fidgeting with, tugging at and adjusting his kit, he will be battling the weight of history.
Added to a hundred at The Oval in 2015, Smith’s twin centuries at Edgbaston made it three consecutive Ashes tons in England.
No player, on either side, has made four hundreds in as many innings in Ashes Tests in England. Not even the Don.
If Smith really does register the failure that is due, England must pounce.
- Tears, drones and garage cricket – getting to know Steve Smith
- ‘Smith bats like an evil spell cast upon his opponents’
Opening up the cracks
In the rubble of England’s Edgbaston defeat was the diamond of Rory Burns’ maiden Test century, the first by an England opener not named Alastair Cook or Keaton Jennings for four years.
Before he took leave of his senses in the second innings and tried to hit Nathan Lyon to Solihull, Jason Roy shaped up nicely, hinting that he could transform his one-day form into Test success.
By contrast, Australia openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft managed 25 runs across four innings between them. Warner was twice snared by Stuart Broad and Bancroft looked like a man whose technique had gone to the same place as his sandpaper.
Warner did not play in the intervening drawn tour game against Worcestershire, while Bancroft made only 33 and seven as opening partner Marcus Harris scored 67. Both incumbent openers arrive at Lord’s short of runs.
Admittedly, all of Australia’s middle order contributed runs at Edgbaston, but will feel increasing heat if they continue to face early exposure to the moving ball.
Warner is a proven Test opener and is likely to get runs at some point. The longer England can delay that, the greater the chance they have of getting back into the series.
Pain for Paine?
Tim Paine was a steadying hand to captain Australia in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, but the fact remains that the wicketkeeper has only scored one first-class century – the same number that fellow keeper Matthew Wade, playing as a specialist batsman, made at Edgbaston.
If Paine wasn’t captain, would he be in the Australia team? He is a fine gloveman, but would Wade or Alex Carey be a better option as a keeper-batsman?
Before the first Test, Paine was forced to answer that very question in a tetchy press conference where he also (possibly incorrectly) quoted Winston Churchill.
In Birmingham, he made scores of five and 34 and was occasionally scruffy with the gloves. If his team had not won, debate over his place would have continued all the way to Lord’s.
An England victory there, one in which Paine struggles, would not only get them back into the series, but also potentially destabilise the Australian leadership for the rest of the series.