England v Australia: Jofra Archer v Steve Smith and other key match-ups in the fourth Ashes Test
With the series tied at 1-1 with two to play, Paul Radley looks at the head-to-heads that could decide the fourth Test at Old Trafford
It might feel like the Ashes is being dominated by one man, after Ben Stokes’ innings for the ages to square the series last time out.
But he is not the only one who will be vying for the headlines as the sides are reacquainted at Old Trafford when the fourth Test starts on Wednesday.
There are a number of subplots which could go a long way to deciding where the urn ends up.
Jofra Archer v Steve Smith
Top of the bill, the headline bout, the prize fight.
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Borrowing from boxing parlance might seem a little crass, given Smith has been absent with concussion brought about by a blow from Archer at Lord’s.
But there is no doubt much of the intrigue in this battle comes from bloodlust.
England have never really had a failsafe place as to how to get Smith out. Not this summer, not ever.
Then came the arrival of Archer, sending down 96mph rockets on Test debut, and suddenly England were a threat.
Bodyline was a plan initially hatched to thwart Donald Bradman – the one player in Test cricket history with a better batting average that Smith.
On the pitch generally regarded as the friendliest for pace bowlers on England’s Test circuit, Archer, too, will likely target bones only a little less frequently than stumps.
Ben Stokes v Nathan Lyon
It is unarguable that Australia’s off-spinner brought upon himself much of the opprobrium that followed the final throes of the Headingley defeat.
He was widely lampooned for his missed run out of Jack Leach in the thrilling finale last time out – a moment that has already earned mention in a line of a new ditty penned by England’s Barmy Army.
It bears pointing out, though, that the series remains 1-1 with two to play. Lyon could yet laugh last.
The remaining Tests are being played at grounds that will likely aid his off-spin.
Slow bowlers generally appreciate the bounce offered at Old Trafford, in particular. In the most recent Test match played in Manchester, in 2017, Moeen Ali was man of the match after leading England to a win over South Africa with his off-breaks.
The challenge will likely be toughest for left-handers, meaning Stokes will have to summon the spirit of Headingley to combat the threat again.
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Jason Roy v Josh Hazlewood
Everyone thought Jason Roy was ill-suited to opening in Tests. Yet still they persisted.
“Personally, I think Jason probably is suited to the middle order,” Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, said ahead of the third Test at Headingley – before promptly packing him off to face the new ball straight away again anyway.
Even the opposition were trying to provide a few friendly(ish) pointers before a ball had been bowled.
“It's hard to bat five at a level below and then open in Test cricket,” Josh Hazlewood, the Australia seamer, said in relation to Roy before the series had even started. “We'll see.”
So, after scores of 9, 8, 0, 2, 10 and 28 in the series to date, the penny has finally dropped. England have swapped Roy and Joe Denly, meaning Roy will be given a chance in the middle order in Manchester.
Either way, he will still likely be confronted by Hazlewood, who took his wicket at both Lord’s and at Headingley.
The idea is that he might fare a little better if England’s top order can at least take some of the shine from the ball before he gets there.
Stuart Broad v David Warner
Given the impact of Archer and Stokes on the England side, Broad has been able to go about his work largely out of the limelight in this series.
It has suited him. A player who, it had been whispered, might be struggling to retain his place in the XI, if everyone were fit, has instead excelled.
He has taken 14 wickets, the most by an Englishman and second only to Pat Cummins, who has 17 in the series, overall.
No-one has been his bunny to quite the extent of Warner. Broad has dismissed the left-hander four times in six innings so far, for scores of 2, 8, 3 and 0.
Warner might be anticipating conditions slightly more in his favour in Manchester, where pitches are generally harder and faster – and thus more similar to Australia.
But with gloomy weather expected for much of the week, he might find his travails continuing.
Updated: September 3, 2019 08:59 AM