And relax. What a Test match we saw at Headingley. Perhaps the greatest ever. And, with a small gap between that intense Ben Stokes inspired finish in Leeds and the start of the Fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford, a chance to take stock of the series and frame our bets now the adrenaline has subsided a little.
James Buttler assesses the best bets for the Fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford…
CAN BEN STOKES DO IT AGAIN?
Possibly a better question would be can anyone do that again, ever? Stokes’ innings at Headingley had everything. He began in stubborn mode, not wishing to open the door to an Australian side eager to run through it and ensure they claimed a 2-0 series lead which would have guaranteed they retained the Ashes urn. Then, with Bairstow he became punchy as the sun shone and the bowlers toiled. And finally, as the wickets fell at the other end, he realised it was down to him to take his side home. And, along with Jack Leach’s famous one not out, he made tremendous bowlers look ordinary and raised his arms aloft in magnificent triumph.
Throughout there was the knowledge that one ball could end the dream. One more wicket would see Australian celebrations. And that was the thing that made Stokes’ innings extraordinary. Other batsmen have made wonderful, sometimes cavalier Test hundreds, but few have had the context that framed that unbeaten 135. With the Ashes on the line it was remarkable.
Can Stokes now lift himself and go again. Because the temptation for punters is to lump on the man in form to repeat his efforts. But this superhero is human and to follow that is a tough task.
Stokes has been quick to urge his team, and probably the nation, to refocus on the challenge ahead. “We have to put everything behind us, what we have just managed to achieve, and start again in Manchester because this will all be forgotten if we lose the next Test match,” he stated. “The Ashes will be gone.”
And he’s wrong and he’s right. Nobody will ever forget that Headingley Test, but the urn is still very much up for grabs. Australia need to win just one of the final two Tests of the series and those Aussie celebrations commence.
Can Ben rise again? Of course, he can. He’s played incredible cricket this summer. He was crucial to England’s World Cup success. His gargantuan bowling marathon the day before his hundred shows he has the heart of a lion. And, in my opinion, he’s the best Test all-rounder of his generation.
But I would avoid backing Stokes to be man of the match in Manchester (best price 7/1 with SkyBet). A once in a lifetime effort doesn’t tend to come in successive matches. He needs the rest of the England team to join him if these Ashes are to be won. With the Man of the Match usually coming from the winning side there are plenty of other contenders.
England added Somerset paceman Craig Overton to the 12 they announced for the previous Test after announcing that James Anderson would not feature at all during the rest of the series. It seems likely they will opt to field the same XI that won at Headingley with the only possible change Sam Curran replacing the tired looking Chris Woakes.
Australia will bring Steven Smith back into their side and Marnus Labuschagne has scored three fifties since replacing the concussed former skipper and has done enough to hold on to his place. One batsman will therefore have to make way and it looks like a decision between Usman Khawajia, Travis Head or Matthew Wade. Mitchell Starc may make his first appearance of the series as the Aussies continue to rotate their pace bowlers.
STOKES HEROICS PAPER OVER MANY CRACKS
There is no doubt the euphoria of that day in Yorkshire and the nearly won Second Test at Lord’s sees England with the momentum in the series. But the harsh truth is that Stokes almost won that Test singlehandedly. Joe Root and Joe Denly shared a century stand which was important, Jonny Bairstow’s boisterous 36 lit the fire, but a first innings 67 all out highlighted England’s problems.
In many ways Stokes match winning knock has papered over the cracks and Jason Roy in particular has got another Test match when a defeat could easily have seen him dropped. It would appear that Joe Denly will move up to open and Roy will drop to four in the batting order. It is last chance saloon for the World Cup winner who is yet to translate stunning white ball form into the Test side. The middle-order is where he should always have been blooded and it remains to be seen whether his previous failures have scarred him mentally. It’s been cruel to watch the selectors ask him to learn the art of Test opening in the heat of an Ashes series. It’s like asking Kylie to sing opera or a Jordan Pickford to play on the left wing. Ed Smith, the chairman of selectors has a penchant for trying to fit square pegs in round holes and it simply doesn’t work.
DID NATHAN LYON DROP THE ASHES?
It is too early to write the Australians off, but there is no doubt they will be hurting. As Jack Leach set off from the non-strikers end for a single that Ben Stokes had no intention of taking, the ball was thrown to Nathan Lyon at the bowler’s end. If he had caught that ball and whipped off the bails, Leach was not in the frame and Australia would have won. 999 times out of 1,000 the contest for the Ashes would have been over. Stokes had racked up the tension and pressure does strange things to people.
But they breed them tough Down Under and with Steven Smith back in the side after concussion saw him miss Headingley, his substitute Marnus Labuschagne playing well enough to keep his place and their bowling attack looking consistently strong, there is reason to believe if you are an Aussies backer.
I suggested last week that England would win at Headingley. Phew on that one! But I recommended taking England at 5/2 to win the series instead as I thought a win in Leeds would provide the platform to take the series. I’m happy to let that ride but, if you want to guarantee a return, the Aussies are now 5/2 to win the series. If Old Trafford yields a result the drawn series will go big and you could then play that too. Lesser returns but a guaranteed way to win – but only if you followed my advice ahead of the Third Test.
Also, Old Trafford tens to help the spinners who usually take more wickets in the second innings when the pitch has deteriorated. Nathan Lyon bucks the trend and is a tough cookie. He’s a great price to bounce back in the top wicket-taker markets for Australia at 4/1 with William Hill.
JOE ROOT SHOWED HIS METTLE
England best batsman is their captain Joe Root. He averages just shy of 50 in Tests, the hallmark of a great player. Since taking over as captain his returns have dipped, but in that second innings at Headingley we saw that Sheffield steel. He needs to remember how he played, full of determination not to give it away. For this is Test cricket, the chips are always down and the best players fight every single ball.
Root’s highest Test score of 254 came against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2016. He has hit three other 50-plus scores there in four Test appearances and, by average, is the most successful batsman of all time at the ground. He has to be the play to be top England first innings batsman at 7/2 with SkyBet. He would also appeal in the Man of the Match markets at 10/1 with SkyBet if he can lead his side into a 2-1 lead. If you play one there is little sense in playing both markets so take your pick.
DOES SMITH FORGET THAT BOUNCER?
Steven Smith is back for Old Trafford and everyone knows what that could mean. Hours and hours of watching him fidget, fiddle and score plenty of runs. Hus duel with Jofra Archer at Lord’s was mesmerising as England’s new quick hit 96mph and caused the best batsman in the world no end of problems. The rivalry will continue at Old Trafford and Smith is human and needs to find a way of avoiding the bouncer that dangerously hit him in the back of the neck and saw him ruled out with concussion for the game in Leeds.
Smith returned to the Australian side for the tour match in Derby and scratched around for 23 runs in the first innings as Australia won by an innings and 54. Can he combat Jofra’s speed? It is the battle we are all waiting to see resumed.
Smith’s record against England is obscenely brilliant with 378 runs in three innings. England have to find a way to get him out of they are to regain the urn. Smith is 7/4 with William Hill to be Australia’s leading bat in the first innings and it’s tough to argue against that price.
ANDERSON A BIG MISS?
Undoubtedly, the lack of Jimmy Anderson’s experience, guile and wicket-taking ability has hampered England this summer and his 28 wickets at Old Trafford sees him the second most successful Test bowler at his home ground of all time. There is no doubt England’s leading wicket-taker of all-time would be playing if fit.
Who takes the wickets in his absence? Jofra Archer has taken Test cricket in his relaxed stride and showed at Headingley that there was more to his game that bowling at 96mph. He adapted to the conditions in Leeds and grabbed 6-45 in the first innings to take his Ashes tally to 13 scalps. Archer is 9/4 to take most first innings wickets at Old Trafford and Stuart Broad, who has 14 wickets this series, is 3/1 with William Hill. Take the value with Broad as he is just as likely to step up as he did against India in Manchester in 2014 when he took 6-25.
IS THE DRAW A PLAY?
In 78 Tests played at Old Trafford, 44.87% have been drawn and 35.89% have been won by England. With England full of confidence, it is difficult to suggest the Australians can win this Fourth Test. It’s a cliché, but the weather in Manchester is not always the best and there is rain forecast for parts of the first three days. The draw is the outsider in the match result market at 3/1 with Bet365. It’s not a fashionable result in modern Test cricket but that price is worth a punt.
- 2 units on the draw at 3/1 with Bet365
- 1 unit on Joe Root to be Top England Batsman at 7/2 with SkyBet
- 1 unit on Steven Smith to be Top Australia Batsman at 7/4 with William Hill
- 1 unit on Nathan Lyon to be Top Australia Bowler at 4/1 with William Hill
- 1 unit on Stuart Broad to be Top England Bowler at 3/1 with Bet365
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