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Is it green decks or bust for England in the Ashes?

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Expert
14th August, 2019
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Rain prevented any play on day one of the second Test, but despite the persistent downpours the Lord’s wicket appears to be fairly dry. And that may just be music to the ears of Tim Paine and Justin Langer.

After a famous win at Edgbaston, the increased prospect of a second Test draw would mean Australia would simply need just one win at either Headingley, Old Trafford or The Oval to reclaim the Ashes.

Chasing the series, England know their best chance of success lies in exploiting Australia’s weakness against lateral movement (aside from a certain number four batsman).

To do this, they need surfaces that are likely to seam beyond the first morning. But will they be forthcoming? A recent heatwave across the UK has dried out many grounds, irrespective of the downpour last night.

At both Edgbaston and now Lord’s, players reported a certain dryness underneath the grass which, as we saw late in the first Test, brings spin into the game in the third and fourth innings.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This year’s Ashes series is unusually late in the calendar, owing to the World Cup. In fact, on this date (August 15) in the 2015 series, the players had already played four Tests and were shaping up for The Oval finale.

Stuart Broad celebrates taking a wicket

Stuart Broad bowled well in the first Test. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

So do England’s hopes rest on green surfaces? Former captain Michael Vaughan thinks so: “For England to get back in the series they need Lord’s to zip around a bit, and they need the snicks to carry through,” he told Cricbuzz.

“They may have to gamble with a bit of green grass on the surface. I don’t see how they get back into the series without lateral movement. If the wickets are flat, (Australia) has quicker bowlers, and if it relies on spin, Australia has the best spinner, so England need lateral movement.”

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Vaughan’s points are straightforward, yet pertinent. If the pitches are flatter and dryer than normally seen in an Ashes series, Australia’s extra pace in the form of Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc are likely to extract more from the wicket than the home side.

Jofra Archer is the only England bowler to consistently exceed 145km/h. When the pitches inevitably offer spin later on, Australia is again in the box seat via the over-spin and variations of Nathan Lyon, a prospect far more dangerous than that of Jack Leach.

The Somerset tweaker has a strong record in recent years in the County Championship, and has earned success through accuracy and consistency. But to expect he could bowl England to victory in the same way Lyon did at Edgbaston is unrealistic.

Of course, Australia is only 1-0 up in a series that’s only just begun. I wrote before the series that the biggest question mark over the side was how they would overcome lateral movement, something that’s undone touring Australian teams for over a decade.

But if pitches similar to Trent Bridge and Edgbaston of 2015 (where the Aussies were respectively skittled) don’t appear forthcoming, their superior pace and spin weapons solidify the favourite tag the visitors acquired after the first Test win.

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There’s another argument that, should England be granted the green strips they so desire, Australia mightn’t be so poorly placed anyhow. While a top order collapse from the tourists is possible – or even probable – under such conditions, it is equally likely to undo England’s inexperienced top three.

It was, after all, a matter of weeks ago that Tim Murtagh’s 125km/h seam-upright spell completely undid Joe Root’s side, bowled out for just 85 by the visiting Ireland side.

Again, such conditions would likely exploit the Aussies, too. But in Jason Roy (two Tests), Joe Denly (four Tests) and Rory Burns (eight Tests), the home side hardly boast the experienced top order of yesteryear.

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If the predicted rain at Lord’s for days three and four eventuates, Australia will head to Leeds maintaining their 1-0 lead. England may just be asking the Headingley groundsman to produce something spicy, because without it, they might just see their chance at regaining the urn start slipping away.