Ashes talking points: pressure is on Australia captain Tim Paine, as England spinner Jack Leach aims to make mark with ball
With the series level at 1-1, there is plenty to whet the appetite ahead of the fourth Test that starts at Old Trafford on Wednesday
Jofra Archer vs Steve Smith Part II. David Warner attempting to decipher Stuart Broad. Ben Stokes being Ben Stokes.
So long as the wet weather stays away, there will be plenty to whet the appetite in the vital fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford, starting on Wednesday.
It is not just the headline acts, though, who will be under the scanner as England and Australia wrestle for the urn.
Jack Leach – bowler
There are probably worse things to be remembered for than being one half of one of the most celebrated partnerships in English cricket history.
And Jack Leach has a top score of 92 to his name in Test cricket, too.
Which is a decent return for someone who was once so fearful of the prospect of batting in county cricket he used to be on the point of vomiting before taking the field.
But the man himself pointed out this week that he is unlikely to have a lengthy England career if conversation only ever centres on his batting, rather than the actual suit he is selected for.
So far this Ashes, the left-arm spinner has five wickets at an average of 20.4, and a serviceable economy rate of 2.64.
Given England’s main weapons are their fast bowlers, they will be perfectly happy with the job being done by their spinner at present.
The good news for Leach is that Old Trafford traditionally assists bowlers of his type, so maybe he will earn some plaudits for his work with the ball this time around.
Overton, not Curran
England opted not to invoke the wisdom of crowds when selecting their XI for this Test.
And they certainly did not look to social media for consensus when surprisingly opting to switch Chris Woakes out of the XI, and bring in Craig Overton instead.
The general response to which was: have you guys forgotten about Sam Curran?
The left-handed all-rounder was a revelation as England beat India in his debut season last year, yet has been a frustrated onlooker in their golden summer of 2019 so far.
It seems odd that Overton went from out of the squad completely, to leapfrogging Curran and going straight into the XI for the Old Trafford Test.
Overton has a solid body of work in county cricket this season to back up his case, though.
And who was the first of the seven victims he has managed in his three match Test career to date? A certain Steve Smith.
Khawaja knocked out
Back in October in Dubai, Usman Khawaja hit a century that was widely described as one of the greatest of its type for Australia. A backs-to-the-wall 141 that propped up the Australian innings as they batted out 139.5 overs to save the Test match against Pakistan.
And now? Possibly on the scrapheap. Or, at the very least, reeling from the Dreaded Vote of Confidence from captain Tim Paine, after he was dropped for Old Trafford.
“He's still got a lot of cricket left in him,” Paine said of Khawaja. “He’s had a very good Test record over his career, and we expect he will bounce back pretty strongly.”
It figures that Marnus Labuschagne should keep his place in the Australian middle-order, given his excellence as locum for Smith, who is now ready to return.
Where that leaves Khawaja’s future, only time will tell.
Tim feeling the pain
Paine casting judgment over Khawaja’s future is understandable. As the team captain, he does a mandatory press conference ahead of each game, and it stands to reason he would be asked about an important selection decision like that.
But in the build up to this game, some were pondering whether Khawaja might even be the best placed man to take the armband from Paine himself.
The wicketkeeper batsmen is already in bonus territory when it comes to his international career. He had all but given up on a recall before Sandpapergate tore apart Australian cricket last year.
Is he really worth his place in the side now? Just 77 runs at 12.83 in the series so far, and, for all the nice things he says off the field, he has made some glaring tactical faults on it.
Updated: September 3, 2019 10:38 PM