Onward to Edgbaston: The Ashes Third Test Preview

As the Ashes moves on to the third Test there is certainly no lack of headlines and talking points.  Although the players got an extra day of rest following Australia’s thoroughly dominating victory at Lord’s, the same cannot be said for the media who have written or talked about every way to fix English cricket since Sunday.  To be honest, most didn’t wait that long and some merely never stopped since the World Cup.

For all the stories, many of them non-stories, the Ashes carnival picked up its tent stakes and moved north this week from London to Birmingham with the series not over and done, but actually level at one all.  Sure, there is no denying that England were absolutely walloped at Lord’s. They couldn’t bowl and when they went to bat, well they couldn’t do much of that either.  Australia from the top to the bottom defeated the hosts in every facet of the great game.  And now it is merely history. Edgbaston awaits and gives both teams the opportunity to take a firm grasp on securing the urn.

For the visitors, they’ll be looking to recreate the magic that was the second Test.  They’ll be counting on Steve Smith to haul in the runs, but will need others to show up with the bat.  It was easily overlooked due to Smith’s 215, but Chris Rogers put up 173 in the first innings before being bowled by Broad. With Rogers still suffering from dizziness and likely not playing in this Test, the visitors will need to find another big bat in the lineup.  They’ll be counting on Warner to continue the solid performance he had in the second innings but he will need to do so without his regular opening partner.  

As for the bowling attack, Australia need the Mitchell Johnson that was at Lord’s taking six wickets rather than the economically costly one that managed just two in Cardiff.  Josh Hazelwood had himself a weekend at Lord’s only adding to a frighteningly good bowling attack that includes the Three Mitchells; Starc, Johnson, and Marsh.

For as great as everything seems to be going in the Aussie camp, the opposite can be said for the English.  Ballance has been dropped, Ian Bell is swirling the drain, and Kevin Pietersen stirs the pot via Twitter from a Miami pool.  The main story of the week and by far the one with the most on-field implications is Gary Ballance being dropped in favor of Jonny Bairstow.  Ballance’s last ten innings are 14, 23, 0, 61, 6, 29, 0, 1, 23, 18.  England desperately need some consistently to the top of the order so in comes Bairstow with a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders not only to perform, but immediately.  The 25-year old Bairstow is in fine form for Yorkshire right now and the ECB are desperate to build an effective top order, something that has been missing for quite some time.  Bairstow has been in form for Yorkshire, scoring 139 & 74* in his two innings against Worcs last week.  Prior to that he managed 108 in the first inning against Warwickshire during the first week of July and hauled in an unbeaten 219* against Durham at the end of June.  With Gary Ballance out of form, it appears the smart move to insert Bairstow into the lineup if England want to try and wrestle the momentum back from Australia.

The arguments are there for Ian Bell to have been dropped, but the only remaining member of the squad from the 2005 Ashes always appeared likely to get at least one more chance and he will in the third Test at his home ground.  Bell’s scorecard looks more like a binary number print out of late with his last eleven scores of 11, 1, 60, 1, 1, 12, 29, 1, 0, 0, 1. It’s hard to imagine that if he puts up similar numbers at Edgbaston that his Test career will survive much longer.  Bairstow has pressure to perform after joining the team in desperate need of a strong top order batsman midway through the tour, but that pales in comparison to the pressure on Ian Bell’s shoulders when he walks to the crease on his home wicket to bat at number three this week.  The Ashes are up for grabs, and his Test career hangs in the balance.

As for England’s bowling attack, well it was toothless on the Lord’s wicket, unable to cause the Australian batsmen any issue. James Anderson had costly overs all weekend while never getting a wicket. Stuart Broad, after a four wicket first innings, was unable to replicate his form when Australia came out for their second session. Moeen Ali was perhaps the most consistent English bowler, but he was hardly inspiring. England need a wicket similar to that in Wales during the first innings of the 1st Test which saw four of their five bowlers grab two or more wickets.

As for how it will all shake out this coming weekend and will the absence of Rogers and addition of Bairstow tip the scales for England in the third Test? It is hard to imagine England shaking off such a brutal loss and regaining their composure.  Australia certainly seem to have worked out their issues while it seems that England simply do not have the bowling attack nor top order bats to match the very in form visitors.

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