England might be trailing 1-0 in the Ashes, but they will start as heavy favourites to win the third Test in the ongoing Ashes series against Australia, due to begin at Headingley, Leeds on Thursday.
While the second Test was ultimately a draw after rain spoilt any chance of a result, the ramifications of the Lords contest can still be felt reverberating throughout Australia.
The moment that could shape this year’s Ashes was when debutant Jofra Archer cleaned up Australian talisman Steve Smith with a bouncer which has seen him being ruled out of the third Test with concussion.
The former Australian captain had been scintillating in the first three innings of the second stage of his career, following his year-long ban for his part in the ball tampering scandal in South Africa.
Smith had posted dual centuries at Edgbaston before looking set for a third successive ton at Lord’s before disaster struck.
Archer, evoking memories of past England pacemen like Harold Larwood, who ironically was one of Donald Bradman’s tormentors in the famous Bodyline series, now appears to have a mental grip over the Australian line-up with no batsman looking comfortable against his searing pace and vicious bounce.
Even Smith’s eventual replacement, Marnus Labuschagne, who became the first concussion sub ever in the Aussies’ second innings, was struck second ball, before making a gutsy half-century and saving the game for his team.
The classy right-hander and part-time leg-spinner is now in the box seat to replace Smith for the Headingley Test.
Australia is also weighing up whether to include gritty Victorian opener Marcus Harris, most likely at the expense of Cameron Bancroft, who despite facing plenty of balls, has not looked capable of scoring.
His opening partner David Warner is also yet to reach double figures in four innings which has the Aussies searching for answers.
England looks likely to enter the clash unchanged after the successful introduction of Archer and spinner Jack Leach into the Test line-up, despite the struggles of opener Jason Roy, who is yet to fire a shot against the talented Aussie bowling line-up.
England picked up something of a moral victory in the second Test as although the match ended as a draw, they had Australia on the ropes in the final day and they will look to carry some of that momentum into this third Test as they look to level the series.
They may contemplate a change in batting order however with Joe Denly moving up to partner Rory Burns at the top of the order, and move the struggling Jason Roy to number three, and skipper Joe Root back to his preferred spot of number four.
Jofra Archer stole the limelight following his impressive Test debut at Lord’s and England will look to him to be the x-factor once again at Headingley as he rattled so many of the Australian batsmen in the second Test and was a constant menace.
Conditions will likely suit Peter Siddle at Headingley and he bowled well at Lord’s although there is a chance that James Pattinson could return to the side here after he was rested in the second Test.
Australia may be tempted to bring their fastest bowler back into the side to give England a taste of their own medicine.
PROBABLE PLAYING XI
England – Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes
Australia – David Warner, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), James Pattinson/Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon
The Ashes plot thickens as the third Test gets underway at Headingley on Thursday. Australia take a 1-0 lead into this Test but England will have some momentum after the match at Lord’s where Archer roughed up Steve Smith and other Australian batsmen.
Just as important as the bowling for England was the innings by Ben Stokes and the time spent at the crease by some of their batsmen, and this series could ultimately be decided by whichever batting line-up is able to piece together some form.
The absence of Steve Smith for Australia is huge and they remain fragile throughout the rest of the team, while England may just be starting to turn the corner with Burns, Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler improving.
Conditions at Headingley will favour bowlers once again and the weather forecast takes the draw out of the equation realistically. England however can carry momentum into this Test and Jofra Archer can lead them to glory here.
Team Cricwizz predicts that England would win the match and level the series 1-1.