England will be gunning for a third successive Ashes Test win when they take on Australia in the third game of the series from Thursday at Old Trafford. We’ll have live scores and commentary from 8.00pm AEST.
A 10-day break between the two Tests would have done little to alleviate Australia’s worries. Not only have they lost both the first two Tests, they have also looked second-best through most parts of the series.
The batting has refused to kick into its optimum gear. It’s stuttered and spluttered and conked out on more than one occasion and the worry-lines would have increased with the back injury to Steven Smith.
Smith was the sole century-scorer for Australia in their warm-up game against Sussex and would have all but cemented his place in the side had he been fit.
Instead, now that Smith’s not 100 percent, the chances of Dave Warner making a comeback into the side for this one will be bolstered.
The big question for Australia is whether they want to get in Warner if Smith improves enough to start for the game. And if so, who does he replace?
By the looks of things, Phil Hughes looked like he was going out but none of the others have lit the stadium on fire either.
To give you a statistical view of things, Australia’s best batsman in terms of runs scores is Ashton Agar with 130.
Shane Watson and Michael Clarke are the only other Australians with more more than 100 to their tally across the four innings, but their averages are less than 30.
Unfortunately for Hughes, his only innings of substance – an unbeaten 81 at Trent Bridge – accounts for most of his runs. In the other three knocks, he’s got 0, 1 and 1. Do they give him another chance?
One thing’s for certain. James Pattinson won’t play this Test – ruled out of the series because of another back injury – and Jackson Bird looks favourite to replace him.
Bird’s nagging lines and lengths and his consistency at maintaining them has been spoken up liberally but it will be interesting to see how he goes against the charged-up English batting.
With Shane Warne brought in to hasten Agar’s progress as a spinner, his inclusion looks almost certain.
England are a confident bunch. They came close to losing the first Test but held their nerve and teed off from there.
What will instil more fear into the Australian bowling is that two of England’s best batsmen, Alastair Cook and Jonathon Trott, are yet to get going.
Cook has scored one 50 but all his other three scores have been less than 15. Trott’s got a 58 and a 48 to his name but his two second innings scores are 0 and 0.
Given their appetite for big scores, this will hurt them and there’s good chance they will look to make amends here.
There’s hope that Kevin Pietersen will be fit for this game even if he does not, they have a worthy replacement in James Taylor, who comes in on the back of a 100 against the Australian attack.
While the selectors have brought in Monty Panesar and Chris Tremlett for Graham Onions and Steven Finn, they should go in with an unchanged bowling attack. That’s despite talks of the Old Trafford track helping slow bowlers.
Weather will remain a key, with rains predicted on at least one of the days of the Test match.
Follow the live score and blog of the first day’s play of the third Test from 8.00pm AEST. You can join me for this live blog and post your comments below.