Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

Ashes talking points: England need Jofra Archer to be Lord's hero again as they face Moeen Ali headache

An early look at some of the things to watch for ahead of the second Test

Australia are one-up in the 2019 Ashes series after their emphatic win at Edgbaston on Monday by 251 runs. Attention immediately turns to the second Test at Lord’s, which starts on August 14, with England facing all of the headaches selection wise.

Jofra Archer’s Test reckoning

The last time Jofra Archer had the ball in his hand at Lord’s he was under pressure and dealing with heavy expectation. He had the challenge of keeping New Zealand to no more than one run off the final ball of the Super Over in the Cricket World Cup final on July 15.

Archer achieved it, ensuring his name will be enshrined in cricketing folklore as England became world champions for the first time.

Now, almost a month later, the 24-year-old is in a position where the nation once again expects great things from him.

After James Anderson was ruled out with a calf injury yesterday, possibly ending his series, it seems likely that Archer will make his debut in the longest format of cricket at the second Ashes Test.

Given he has been struggling with a side strain and has played very little cricket since July 15, some patience should be afforded to him. But England don’t have time for that. They desperately need Archer to hit the ground running with a red ball in his hands.

How Archer handles the situation will be fascinating. He has already been England’s hero once this summer, can he do it again?

Superlative Steve Smith

The one consolation for England was they did discover a weakness in Steve Smith at Edgbaston. He is apparently sketchy in the 140s after his superb pair of centuries ended at 144 and 142.

Smith was remarkable in Birmingham given it was his first Test back since completing the 12-month ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal.

He already looks set to define this series. If he keeps up this level of form then England could lose their first Ashes series at home since 2001.

Australia’s batsmen made a better collective effort in the second innings, having been 122-8 on Thursday before Smith stepped up.

Matthew Wade made a hundred and both Travis Head and Usman Khawaja had good cameos. But it is their former captain who England fear, and rightly so as he took the game away from them at Edgbaston.

His century on the opening day dragged Australia to a score of 284 – not great but kept them in the game.

His second knock, coming in when the side were reeling at 27-2 (effectively minus 63 for 2 due to England’s 90-run first innings lead) effortlessly guided them to an ­unbeatable position.

Smith scored 687 runs in the 2017/18 series and he is already more than a third of the way to surpassing that total in this series.

If England needed further bad news it is that he did more than OK at Lord’s last time he played there in the Ashes.

He hit 215 and 58 in the match there four years ago and he is certainly in the form to repeat that. If he can just get through the pesky 140s that is.

The Moeen Ali headache

England are already ­guaranteed to make one change to their side with Archer set to come in for Anderson. But their selectors face a real headache over Moeen Ali and whether he deserves to keep his place in the side.

Ali was clearly struggling throughout the action at Edgbaston.

Former Australia pace bowler Mitchell Johnson, no stranger to debilitating loss of form in his career, recognised the signs only too well. “I have been in this situation,” he told the BBC. “I just remember my body language was very similar to Moeen, the slumped shoulders and the head down.

“Once you doubt yourself and don’t have that belief, it is pretty tough.”

Moeen scored only four runs with the bat, and never looked happy at the crease. After a reasonable first innings effort with the ball, he was then slapped around by the Australians in the second innings, his 2-130 coming at an economy of 4.48.

He has not become a bad bowler overnight but his confidence looks shot and England have a big call to make.

Australia sensed a weak link at Edgbaston with Smith, in particular, and the rest of their batsmen going after him with aggression.

If Moeen is axed, that is probably him done for the summer. But he does have the character to fight he way back in. He was jettisoned for six Tests in 2018 but then took 12 wickets in two matches against India last summer that sparked a strong winter.

It is a conundrum. There is not a natural like for like replacement. Jack Leach has yet to bowl in a home Test and, despite his nightwatchman heroics at Lord’s against Ireland, he is an out and out tailender.

The other alternative is to not have a full-time spinner, back the pacers to do the job and let Joe Root and Joe Denly turn their arm if needed. The pair bowled 28 wicketless overs at Edgbaston – not exactly figures to strike fear into Aussie hearts.

To persevere or change things up? A hard one and the wrong call could finish off England’s hopes.

Updated: August 7, 2019 10:27 AM

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