Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 November 2019

Ashes talking points: all super for Steve Smith, job threat for Joe Root, Jofra Archer under fire, while the joke is on Jack Leach

The little urn might be remaining Down Under but there are still plenty of talking points going into Thursday's fifth and final Test at The Oval

England fast-bowler Jofra Archer in action during training at The Oval ahead of Thursday's fifth Test. Getty 
England fast-bowler Jofra Archer in action during training at The Oval ahead of Thursday's fifth Test. Getty 

Australia will be heading home after the Ashes with the urn secured, no matter what happens at The Oval in the final Test, starting on Thursday.

England can still share the series, though, and there remains much to play for.

Sam Curran has been restored to the home team, after being 12th man for the rest of the series.

His return, as part of a rejig to cover the fact Ben Stokes might be unable to bowl because of a shoulder injury, could signal the end of Jason Roy’s Test career – at least for a while yet.

Chris Woakes is back after one Test out, instead of Craig Overton. And they are only some of the issues facing the home side.

England have won four out of nine Test series with Joe Root as captain. AFP
England have won four out of nine Test series with Joe Root as captain. AFP

Root of the problems

Trevor Bayliss, England’s outgoing coach, reckons the side’s captain, Joe Root, is under no pressure at all. Which is a problem for England.

“He hasn't come under question from anyone making decisions,” Bayliss said ahead of The Oval Test. “So he's under no pressure at all.”

For all the failings in this summer, and in the rest of Root’s reign – England have won four of nine Test series with him at the helm – Bayliss is right. Realistically, Root’s job as captain is not under threat, mainly because of a dearth of alternatives.

Who else is sure of their position in the side? Ben Stokes, but it would be folly to overload him with any extra responsibility, given his workload on the field and is celebrity off it. See Andrew Flintoff for reasons why.

Stuart Broad? A titan of this Ashes summer, for sure, but giving him the armband would be retrogressive. And the rest? There is no clear and obvious candidate.

Spectacular Smith

Just the 671 runs so far in three matches this series for Steve Smith, and the worst could still be yet to come for England.

In accepting his man of the match award after the last game, Smith pointed out that he was looking forward to the final Test, as he has done well at The Oval before.

Quite. In 2013 he made 138 not out there, then four years later his 143 set up an innings win over England, and an average of 144 at the ground. Which is only slightly superior to his average in the ongoing series.

The best since Bradman? It is very hard to argue the case against.

There is one more of Sir Don’s records that Smith could aim for in this series. Bradman’s Ashes best haul of 974 is 303 runs away from Smith.

So it would take something special to overhaul it, but this is Steve Smith we are talking about.

Australian batsman Steve Smith has a superb record at The Oval, with an average of 144 at the London ground. Reuters
Australia batsman Steve Smith has a superb record at The Oval, with an average of 144 at the London ground. Reuters

McGrath aims for Archer

Jofra Archer’s summer was going so well until a little over a week ago. World Cup winner, and potentially the man who was going to turn the Ashes, he was becoming the saviour of English cricket.

And then the temperature dropped, a gale blew across Old Trafford on Day 1, his pace fell away, and suddenly the bubble had burst.

“A lot has been made of Archer but you can't just fire it up when things are good,” Glenn McGrath, the former Australia bowler, wrote for the BBC.

“You've got to do the hard yards as well, and I'm yet to see him do the hard yards.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, given Archer is just three matches in to his Test career, and has only really performed badly for a day and a half so far. But he will need to be straight back to his best to make an impression at The Oval.

England spinner Jack Leach has taken eight wickets, at an average of 30.37, during the current Ashes series. PA 
England spinner Jack Leach has taken eight wickets, at an average of 30.37, during the current Ashes series. PA

Trouble for Leach

Much like Archer, Jack Leach plunged from one career high to a low at Old Trafford – and was also rebuked by an ex-great.

In the aftermath of Headingley, it was difficult to move too far on social media without hearing some anecdote or other about Leach and his share in one of the great 10th wicket alliances in cricket.

Looked at from one direction, all the attention he garnered for that innings of one not out must have stuck in the craw.

Whether Smith really was mocking him by wearing glasses during Australia’s Old Trafford celebrations is difficult to know for sure.

But, as Kevin Pietersen argued, Leach’s cult status is not remotely commensurate with his returns with the ball.

“He isn’t doing his job,” Pietersen said of Leach, suggesting he had become “a joke”.

Updated: September 11, 2019 05:45 PM

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