England will have been heartened by their commanding day five performance in the Second Test at Lord’s, which almost saw them level the 2019 Ashes series. They go to Leeds on Thursday knowing they need more of the same, and then some, if they are to win the series and get the Ashes back from Australia..
James Buttler asses the series so far and finds the best bets from Headingley…
JOFRA, SMITH, BRUISES & A CHANGE IN MOMENTUM
A draw at Lord’s, in the cold light of day, may not seem to have advanced either side’s grip on the famous Ashes urn. But Jofra Archer’s Test debut, his ability to bowl at up to 96 miles per hour and the fact that he ruffled the feathers of the normally unflappable genius of Steven Smith has given England hope. It’s also rocked the Aussies.
Until Archer glided in and peppered Smith with serious hostility, it appeared the visitors’ former skipper was going to glide through the series, propping up an otherwise ailing batting line up as he broke records left, right and centre.
Then came Jofra. He almost ambles in as if his mind is elsewhere, His action rarely changes whether it is a bullet approaching 100mph or a knuckle ball, cleverly disguised to be released much more slowly. He has variation, a control often missing in a genuine quick and a temperament that takes every new stage that he steps up to completely in his stride.
A spell on Saturday against Smith catapulted Archer even further into the nation’s hearts and showed that even Smith can be made to look human after all. One blow on the back of Smith’s neck, to a ball delivered at 92mph, was sickeningly reminiscent of the one Phil Hughes succumbed to in Sydney tragically in 2014. No one wants to see death or injury, but then everyone loves the theatre that a fast bowler brings, particularly when bowling at the best batsman in the world. Some of the best contests have been when a brave batsman flouts all good sense and toughs it out against serious hostility,
Smith was ordered off by the physio, with the sport rightly officious when it comes to any kind of head injury. The batsman bravely returned for a while, but then a concussion Test on Sunday morning saw him a little groggy and he then missed the drama of day five.
Smith is also potentially out of the Test at Leeds, but reports suggest he should be okay. Be sure, if he plays the medics are certain. There is no team or medical man that would risk a player’s health carelessly. Regardless of Smith’s presence in the Australia side, the shockwaves have run through the visitors’ dressing room. Australia may be 1-0 up but England are the team with their confidence boosted and pleased Archer is with them and not bowling at them.
CAN ENGLAND SQUARE THE SERIES IN LEEDS
England were only four wickets short of a famous Lord’s win and the selectors have shown their faith in the team by naming an unchanged 12-man squad for the Third Test. That faith may not stretch much further if Jason Roy, Joe Denly and even Jos Buttler don’t deliver in a win at Headingley. The only changes England might make are swapping Roy and Denly in the order and perhaps Sam Curran might replace Chris Woakes who has been carrying a slight niggle for some time. With Tests now back-to-back there is need to rest a few limbs.
GOOD TIME TO BACK ENGLAND IN THE SERIES
If you were tearing up your ‘England to win the Ashes’ betting slip, keep it in your back pocket. With three Tests to go England are by no means out of this series and, rather than back them to win the Third Test on the short side of EVS, I’d take England to take the series at 5/2. If Joe Root’s side win in Leeds I can’t see Australia bouncing back.
One of the major reasons that the series is so exciting is that both sides are struggling to score consistently against bowling attacks that are vastly superior. Ben Stokes hit a brilliant second innings century and Marnus Labuschagne an impressive fifty, as substitute for Smith in the second innings, but runs are hard to come by.
Without Smith’s capacity to score heavily and occupy the crease forever, Australia could easily have been 2-0 down. And both sides’ have serious issues at the top of the order with only Rory Burns First Test ton occupying the scorer’s attention for any length of time.
WHERE ARE THE RUNS COMING FROM?
The England batting markets are a bit of a lottery on what we have seen. Joe Root is the best player in the side on pedigree but, self-promoted to three in the order, he may as well be opening with Roy so fragile. Roy has been the perfect example of a player who rules the roost on one-day cricket but who cannot adapt to the red ball. It’s been unfair of the selectors to expect him to learn a new craft on the heat of the Ashes. He could be dropped down the order or dropped altogether unless fortunes change rapidly.
Play the value with Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow the best prices of those likely to top score. Bairstow averages 54.20 in Tests at his home ground in Yorkshire, with a highest score there of 140.
Some may wait until Smith’s fitness is cleared up, but I wouldn’t back him anyway. A blow to the head and plenty more short stuff to come, if he plays, does not make him the usual and obvious run machine. I would want to see him scoring runs again before I put money on him. So, the only other players showing any kind of gumption are Travis Head and Labuschagne. Of the batsmen to have played three or more innings only Smith (126.00) and Head (45.00) average over 30. Back Head now because if Smith is ruled out his price will shrink.
THE WICKET TAKERS
For Australia, Pat Cummins is consistently on the money. That is why he is currently ranked world number one in Tests. His 13 wickets at only 16.50 make him by far the most dangerous Australian bowler.
England’s Archer is now very short at around 9/4, joint favourite with Stuart Broad. It’s a market I’d probably leave alone but it is worth remembering that Broad has a good record at Headingley with 42 wickets at 26.81 and a best of 6-91 in the nine Test matches he’s played there. I’d probably just favour the more experienced man.
DON’T BACK THE DRAW
People mocked me when I suggested there would be one or two draws in this five-match series, particularly suggesting that the batting on display wasn’t good enough to bat long enough to force a stalemate.
But consider the British weather, add in the potential for even so-called weaker batsmen over-performing and that pitches can be batsman friendly, there was always a chance positive results wouldn’t always occur. Lord’s just ended in a draw but I cannot see another following over the coming week.
The forecast for Headingley is decent with only a single-figure percentage chance of any rain. And you shouldn’t get suckered into remembering the Headingley wickets of yesteryear that heavily aided seam bowling, Only one of the last 19 Tests played at the ground has ended even Stevens, and that was England vs South Africa back in 2012. England need a result and they should get the opportunity to go out there and force one home.
There will be runs at Leeds, so play a first innings century for someone from either side.
- 2 units on England to win the Ashes Series at 5/2 with MarathonBet
- 1 unit on Jonny Bairstow to be Top England Batsman at 7/1 with SkyBet
- 1 unit on Ben Stokes to be Top England Batsman at 11/2 with SkyBet
- 1 unit on Travis Head to be Top Australia Batsman at 11/2 with BetFred
- 2 units on Pat Cummins to be Top Australia Bowler at 9/4 with Bet365
- 2 units on a hundred to be score in the first innings at 8/13 with Bet365