After one of the most dramatic Test matches in history at Headingly last time out we now shift our attentions to the fourth instalment of this gripping encounter at Old Trafford with the Manchester venue having plenty to live up to.
The heroics of Ben Stokes – whose 135 not out in Leeds was surely the greatest innings ever by an English batsman – ensured that the Ashes series is still alive at 1-1 with two matches to play and who would bet against another thriller here with everything on the line for both sides?
England looked to have blown their big chance having bowled Australia out for just 179 on the first day of the third Test, only to fluff their lines and crumble to 67 all-out less than 24 hours later, but what followed over the next three days will live long in the memory of anyone who had the pleasure of witnessing it.
With England needing to chase a record 359 for victory all hope looked lost on Sunday afternoon with the home side still needing 73 runs with nine wickets down, and how much damage that astonishing victory thanks to the bat of Stokes will have done to Australia is anyone’s guess with the visitors making several changes ahead of the latest installment.
Usman Khawaja has been left out of Australia’s 12-man squad as paceman Mitchell Starc is recalled while Steve Smith, who missed-out at Headingly, replaces Khawaja, who batted at number three throughout the series but managed an average of just 20.33 from his six innings and Marnus Labuschagne keeps his place after three successive half-centuries.
Starc, who was the leading wicket taker at the World Cup earlier this year and 3.45* to take the most in this Test, impressed in Australia’s tour match against Derbyshire last week as he took seven wickets and looks likely compete with Peter Siddle for a place in the attack, with James Pattinson sitting this one out.
Australia know that a victory in Manchester would see them take an unassailable 2-1 lead in the series which would mean the Ashes remain in their hands once more but following the incredible scenes 10 days ago England will feel they have every chance of ensuring the urn stays on these shores.
Joe Denly has confirmed he will swap places with Jason Roy at the top of the order for the fourth Ashes Test against Australia with the opener having struggled in the series so far, scoring 57 runs in six innings and will drop to number four for the Old Trafford Test.
Kent batsman Denly opened the batting on his England debut against West Indies earlier this year but scored just six and 17 before moving to number three and later number four and although he only averages 24.33 from his six Tests, made an important half-century in England’s second innings of the third Test at Headingley.
Roy will now have the chance to prove his prowess in the middle order, a role he has fulfilled for the majority of his first-class career with Surrey as England look to improve their batting ahead of this key Test.
Although flourishing at one day level, in the red ball game England’s potent batting line-up has struggled somewhat with Jason Roy scoring 40 runs at an average of 10; while Jos Buttler has 49 at 12.25. Of these batsmen Buttler has looked the most secure and at Lord’s his second‑innings 31 alongside Ben Stokes, but they can’t rely on lightening to strike twice in what was surely a once-in-a-lifetime innings – so backing Buttler at 7.50* to be the top England first innings scorer might not be a bad bet.
As for the bowlers, Jimmy Anderson’s troublesome right calf, an injury that flared up four overs into the first match of the series at Edgbaston, will see him miss the final two Tests against Australia at Old Trafford and The Oval.
As a result, the selectors have bolstered their seam options by recalling Somerset’s Craig Overton for the first time since March 2018, when the 25-year-old earned his third Test cap in the defeat to New Zealand in Auckland.
Australia know that two draws will be enough for them to retain the Ashes they won back in 2017 and with the forecast not looking great, this one to end in a stalemate at 3.55* is tempting.
But Smith’s side will surely be pushing for the decisive victory while England have to win at least one of the remaining matches at Old Trafford or The Oval in order to win the series; so buckle up and get ready for what (weather permitting) looks like being another nail biting encounter.