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Australia should not fight Jofra Archer with fire

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Expert
20th August, 2019
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After Jofra Archer’s dynamic display, Australia should resist the urge to fight fire with fire and instead play the same steady attack in the third Test at Headingley – a ground which historically rewards accuracy over raw pace.

Archer’s roughing up of the visiting batsmen could prompt Australia to try to return the favour by dropping one of the precise pair of Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle for an intimidating quick like James Pattinson or Mitchell Starc.

Headingley, though, has tended to be a traditional seaming English pitch, the kind on which it is more valuable to consistently hit good areas than bowl at startling speed. It had not been a high-scoring ground in recent times.

In the past decade, during which there have been nine Tests there, teams have been bowled out for paltry totals like 88, 91, 102, 119, 134, 174 and 174.

Of course, any decision on the balance of Australia’s attack should not be made until the tourists have got a good look at the surface.

If it appears flatter than usual, then either of Pattinson or Starc would be worthy replacements for Siddle, the Aussie quick who is least effective on sleepy decks.

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Should it appear to be a moist pitch, however, then Siddle is exactly the style of bowler suited to the conditions.

Peter Siddle

Peter Siddle (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

With just five wickets at 36 across the first two Tests, Siddle’s figures do not look great. Context is key, though. He has been badly let down by his teammates, who have turfed five catches off his bowling.

A reasonable amount of luck could have seen Siddle’s figures be eight wickets at 23. His ability to choke the run rate and also to bowl long spells is valuable.

The Victorian was expensive in his final three overs at Lord’s as England slogged to a declaration, but prior to that he had conceded a miserly 2.46 runs per over across his 64 overs in this series.

Against a stronger batting lineup, Australia might need the extra pace and bounce of Starc or Pattinson. But this England batting unit is a mess. A limited-overs mentality, exemplified by a lack of patience, is hindering the likes of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Denly, while skipper Joe Root is in a deep form trough.

The English are consistently giving away their wickets. The best way to exploit that is not to try to blow them away with pace but instead to hit good areas monotonously. That would be a particularly sensible strategy should the Headingley pitch turn out to be moist.

Equally important for Australia will be getting the correct balance in their batting lineup.

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Champion batsman Steve Smith hopes to be fit but there must be a high likelihood he won’t be, after being concussed just four days ago.

Should he not be available, his obvious replacement is Marnus Labuschagne. The 25-year-old did a terrific job as the concussion substitute for Smith in the second innings at Lord’s, making a gutsy and skilful 59 to help Australia earn a draw.

Marnus Labuschagne.

Marnus Labuschagne (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

If Smith is allowed to play, then Usman Khawaja should move up to replace Cameron Bancroft as opener, with Labuschagne batting at first drop.

Smith’s absence would make things much less clear.

The only reserve batting options in the squad are opener Marcus Harris and all-rounder Mitch Marsh. The latter should be nowhere the side.

Harris would be worth considering if Smith is ruled out. The left-hander was unlucky to be overlooked for the first Test in favour of Bancroft, who has floundered.

There is cause for concern, though, about Harris’ ability to deal with Archer’s terrifying bouncers. The Victorian struggled against the short ball last summer, hit on the helmet and upper body repeatedly by the Indian quicks. None of those Indians has a bouncer anywhere near as vicious and difficult to read as that possessed by Archer. That’s a real worry.

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Harris, though, has earned a second chance at Test cricket after dominating the Sheffield Shield last summer and making a solid start to his international career.

So much of this, of course, depends on Smith’s health. Not the bowling attack, though – Australia have no excuse for not getting that mix right.