Ashes rivalry returns to the Home of Cricket. The home team, England, has happy memories of lifting their first ODI World Cup here barely a month ago. But such things matter little as seen during the first Ashes Test where we witnessed England being outclassed by Australia and concede the round one of the Ashes by 251 runs at Edgbaston, the same ground that staged England’s victory against the same opponents in the second World Cup semifinal.
The last time England was 2-0 behind against Australia at home was in 2001. Not surprisingly, that was also the last time they conceded the urn while playing on their home turf. The Joe Root-led team would be well aware of the mountain that will rest in front of them to climb if they flunk at Lord’s.
For that to happen, they first need to get their team combination right. The Edgbaston Test saw them overload their batting leading to Sam Curran’s ouster from the XI. James Anderson’s injury added to their woes and England seemed crippled in the bowling department during the second innings.
England is set to replace Moeen Ali with Jack Leach, the only spinner in their 12-man squad. Jofra Archer is slotted to replace the injured Anderson. But, if they want to leave a lasting imprint on their opponents, they will need to play Sam Curran, for which they will have to take the bold call of dropping one of their top seven batsmen. The question is, who should be dropped in a side of underperforming batsmen?
In the same time-frame, Sam Curran has a batting average of 31.8, better than the more skillful batsmen in the side. In fact, he has been amongst the better lower-order batsmen going around which indicates that his inclusion at the expense of a middle-order batsmen will actually boost the batting as well as the bowling unit.
FUN FACT: Sam Curran played seven Tests for England in 2018, England won each one of them.
Woakes to lead in Anderson’s absence
101 Test wickets in over 10 years of Ashes cricket suggest Stuart Broad will be the undisputed leader of the bowling attack in James Anderson’s absence. However, given the resemblance in bowling style, it would be Chris Woakes who will have to shoulder the responsibility of filling the void left by Anderson. Woakes, has been amongst the best in terms of the fast bowlers for England who have taken 10 or more Test wickets at Lord’s in the 21st century.
Woakes picked a 6-wicket haul in England’s last outing at Lord’s. Albeit, it was against Ireland but the right-arm pacer knows the areas to bowl while using Lord’s slope to his advantage. If he is able to extract movement, he could be as hard to face as Anderson.
Is Leach the answer to Steve Smith?
The whole British Isle is in search to find the answer to a pertinent question: How to get Steve Smith out? The right-hand batsman has amassed 973 runs in the six Ashes Tests at an average of 139 runs per dismissal.
It has been pointed out that left-arm orthodox spin is Steve Smith’s Achilles Heel. The former Australian skipper averages 34.9 against the traditional left-arm spin. But is that all to the story? Not really.
Out of his 21 dismissals against left-arm orthodox spinners, 14 have been in Asia where Rangana Herath accounted for his wicket on five occasions while Ravindra Jadeja picked him four times.
Moreover, England’s decision to pick Leach might hurt them as Australia has a bunch of left-handers in their batting order - David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Matthew Wade - which may work against the left-arm spinner.
However, being the only spinner in the side, Leach’s major role would be to keep a check on the flow of runs from one end helping his fellow teammates to take the wickets. They would expect him to provide them the control that Moeen Ali failed to offer in the first Test.
Can Mitchell Starc find a place in the XI?
James Pattinson has been left out of Australia’s 12-man squad for Lord’s. There can be two reasons behind the move. First, to give a rest to the injury-prone fast bowler and have a rotation policy in place to assist workload management. This will ensure that the burly fast bowler is fresh for the third and fourth Test that do not have a considerable layover between them. The second reason could be to accommodate Mitchell Starc, who saw the Edgbaston Test from the sidelines, in the XI on a much conducive Lord’s wicket
A quick flashback to the World Cup encounter between the two sides at Lord’s. The Australian XI in that game featured Jason Behrendorff to take advantage of the slope at the venue. Behrendorff and Starc paired to take nine wickets in the game. Memories of that contest can prompt the Australian management to bring the New South Wales seamer back into their XI and provide some variation to the attack in the form of a left-arm seamer.
Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Joe Root (c), Ben
Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Stuart
Broad, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach
Cameron Bancroft, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c/wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon