England head into the fourth Test of this year’s Ashes having kept the series alive with a three-wicket victory at Headingley, but with several selection dilemmas to ponder ahead of naming the team to take on Australia at Old Trafford…
Moeen to bat at No 3 again?
A few eyebrows were raised when Moeen Ali walked out to bat at No 3 for England in their second innings at Headingley, with Harry Brook having taken that spot in the first.
Stokes revealed afterwards it was at the request of the big-hitting all-rounder, who volunteered himself to move up from No 7 and in turn allow Harry Brook to return to his usual place of fifth in the order.
England squad for fourth Test vs Australia
Ben Stokes (Durham, captain), Moeen Ali (Warwickshire), James Anderson (Lancashire), Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Harry Brook (Yorkshire), Zak Crawley (Kent), Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire), Dan Lawrence (Essex), Ollie Robinson (Sussex), Joe Root (Yorkshire), Josh Tongue (Worcestershire), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Mark Wood (Durham).
Who will bat third remains a question for England ahead of the must-win match at Old Trafford though due to vice-captain Ollie Pope still being sidelined for the remaining two Tests due to a dislocated shoulder.
Although he only managed five runs at No 3 as England successfully chased 251 to beat Australia, Moeen could well continue in that role in Manchester.
Bumping Joe Root back up from fourth in the order is another option, but former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara believes that would cause too much disruption to England’s middle order.
“You shouldn’t weaken your strength, and England’s strength has been their middle and lower-order batting with Stokes, Bairstow, Root at No 4 – keep that engine room going,” Sangakkara told Sky Sports Cricket.
“I think you have a problem at No 3, but you don’t want to try to change that middle engine room to such an extent you make it more vulnerable.”
Where does Brook fit in?
Brook was the immediate choice to replace Pope as England’s No 3, although managed just three runs from 11 balls before being caught off Pat Cummins’ bowling.
The 24-year-old will most likely slot back into his usual middle-order spot for the Old Trafford Test, having batted fifth in the order for 14 of the 17 Test innings he has played – including making a vital 75 there as England chased 251 to beat Australia in the second innings at Headingley.
He averages 74.69 in that spot and former England captain Michael Atherton is in no doubt they should stick with Brook in that position and consider temporarily elevating Root back up one spot to third in the order.
“They like Harry Brook at No 5, he averages 13 in first-class cricket at No 3 for Yorkshire and he hasn’t done it that much, and he looked a bit shaky in the first innings,” Atherton told Sky Sports Cricket.
“I definitely prefer Brook at No 5 to No 3. I still think Root should do it because he’s the best player. It’s not a big difference between No 4 and No 3, and he’s a good enough player to do it.”
Anderson to return?
Such has been James Anderson’s impact on English cricket that his county club of Lancashire renamed the Pavilion End at Old Trafford after the country’s leading Test wicket-taker in 2017.
Having been rested for the win at Headingley, Anderson is poised to potentially return to the England team on his home ground in the fourth Ashes Test where a win would draw the hosts level in this year’s series.
The 40-year-old seamer has not been at his best in two Tests he has played of this series so far though, having taken just three wickets at an average of 75.33 after missing the one-off Test against Ireland last month while recovering from an injury suffered on county duty for Lancashire.
So, while the thought of Anderson bowling from the James Anderson End on his home ground with the series on the line is a tantalising one, former England captain Nasser Hussain knows sentiment cannot come into play.
“You need no emotion,” Hussain told Sky Sports Cricket. “If Jimmy Anderson is not ready and not bowling well enough, don’t worry about the Jimmy Anderson End and Old Trafford, this is the Ashes.
“But you know Jimmy Anderson is a seriously good bowler, so you pick your bowlers to win that one game.
“Take out the emotion, take out how much they’ve played, they’ve all had a nine or 10-day break so are they ready to go? You pick your best side, and if it’s 2-2 when you got the Oval you do it all over again.”
England’s other bowling options
Player of the match Mark Wood and Chris Woakes both made strong cases for retaining their places in the team for the Old Trafford Test, finishing with match figures of 7-100 and 6-141 at Headingley along with starring with the bat too on their respective returns to Test cricket.
Ollie Robinson remains a doubt after suffering back spasms which meant he was unable to bowl 11.2 overs at Headingley, and if the right-armer was ruled out it would leave plenty to consider for Stokes and McCullum with regards to their pace attack.
Josh Tongue, who finished with match figures of 5-151 in the 43-run defeat at Lord’s, is another player who could potentially return and Sangakkara believes he particularly poses a threat to dangerous Australia batter Steve Smith.
“Josh Tongue looks very attractive, especially because of Steve Smith’s record because that’s something Australia have struggled with,” Sangakkara said.
“Every time he gets out cheaply, Australia wobble and I think England always relish an opportunity to see the back of Smith.
“That’s a very attractive choice and Anderson will be in the mix as well, but there can be no sentimentality. Pick your best side to win that Test match.”
Bairstow in squad, but all eyes on wicketkeeper
England may have kept the series alive by triumphing in the must-win third Test, but one member of their Yorkshire contingent did not enjoy the best of games on his home ground.
Jonny Bairstow’s status as England’s wicketkeeper was once again called into question as he dropped two catches in Australia’s first innings and put down another, albeit difficult chance, in the second. His struggles with the bat intensified those questions as well.
Since weighing in with 78 in the first innings of the opening Test of the series at Edgbaston, the right-hander has failed to score more than 20 in an innings, making just 12 and five when at the crease at Headingley.
England have, unsurprisingly, not opted jettison a player who up to this point has been an integral part of the batting line-up since skipper Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum took charge of the Test team, however,
Bairstow has repeatedly defied the naysayers throughout his England career too, although the 33-year-old will face plenty of scrutiny over his performances with the gloves and even the bat at Old Trafford, where the hosts need another win to set up a series decider at The Oval.
Watch day one of the fourth Ashes Test live on Sky Sports Cricket on Wednesday July 19. Build-up from 10am, first ball at 11am. You can stream the men’s and women’s Ashes series on NOW.