After having a good 10 days to reflect on the Headingley horror, the Aussies will now set sights on Old Trafford, where they’ll have to hit the reset button. While the return of Steve Smith is a massive boost for the visitors, they’ve also decided to pull the plug on the misfiring Usman Khawaja.
David Warner: David Warner managed to turn things around at Headingley - both with the bat and on the field - but by his own standards, it was still not good enough. After a fighting 61 in the first innings, he fell prey to Stuart Broad in the second, and once again at Old Trafford, he would need to find a way to overcome his demons. In the 2017/18 Ashes, he scored his first century of the series in the 4th Test and it won’t be an overstatement to say that he would bite your hand off to have a chance to do the same come Wednesday.
Marcus Harris: Despite having scored a 64 in the warm-up match and having played just one Test in this series so far, Harris looked like he was gone for all money, but on Tuesday, the selectors dropped a bombshell by dropping Usman Khawaja instead. Since his debut, the 27-year-old has been guilty of throwing away his starts and in the second innings at Headingley, he once again did just that. All signs point towards Harris playing to save his Test career at Old Trafford.
Marnus Labuschagne: No Steve Smith? No problem. The “like-for-like” replacement of Smith did justice to his tag by scoring fifties in each of his three innings across two Tests. With the master all set to return, Labuschagne will slot back to his favorite #3 position - a position in which thrived for Glamorgan, amassing more than 1000 runs for the team. He has by far looked like Australia’s second best batsman, but maybe, just maybe, he would be hoping to convert those 70s and 80s into a century.
Steve Smith: After getting hit on the neck by Jofra Archer, Smith will arguably come up against the toughest challenge of his career yet, when he takes the field on Wednesday. But saying that, he is a man who loves challenges and it won’t be surprising if he’d spent the entirety of the last week sketching out plans to negate the Archer threat. The stage is set once again for the King to conquer, but this time, a bigger prize awaits - the coveted urn.
Travis Head: He was undone by two absolute beauties by Broad and Stokes respectively in the third Test and frankly speaking, no batsmen would have survived those. Having shown fight, grit, determination and the tendency to stand up under pressure, the challenge for Head will now be to make his starts count and post a big one on the board. His place in the side never came into question, but bigger responsibilities now rest on his shoulders and it is time for the South Australian to now take his game to the next level.
Matthew Wade: It has been feast or famine for Wade so far in this Ashes. Sadly for him, it has been famine than feast more often than not, and just like Harris, he, too, might be playing for his career. Despite all chatter suggesting a Mitch Marsh - Wade swap, the selectors have put their faith on the Victorian and have given him one more go. It is now up to him to repay it and make sure that he does not let years of hard work in the domestic circuit go to waste.
Tim Paine: If he weren’t the captain of the side, chances are that Paine would have found himself out of the XI by now. While his performances with the bat have been anything but inspiring, his captaincy - especially his usage of the DRS - has been questionable and ultimately ended up costing his side a win at Headingley. At this stage, any contribution from the skipper with the bat looks like a bonus, but he will definitely be looking to marshall his troops better and tighten up things from a captaincy point of view.
Pat Cummins: He was flawless in the first two matches of the series, but fatigue started creeping into his bowling towards the fag end of the third Test, as he was slowly but steadily dismantled by a rampant Stokes. But now, having gotten a 10-day rest, Cummins should have his batteries recharged and will once again go hunting for blood come Wednesday. He is the number 1 bowler in the world and perhaps, it’s time to give everyone a timely reminder as to why the rankings don’t lie.
Josh Hazlewood: They say fast bowlers don’t take getting dropped lightly, and boy did Hazlewood not do justice to that statement. After being the pick of the Aussie bowlers at Lord’s, the New South Welshman ran riot at Headingley, claiming no less than nine English scalps to almost send a message to the selectors who initially overlooked him. If the Old Trafford track is anything like Headingley or Lord’s, the tall pacer is certainly bound to make merry and reap rewards for the same.
Mitchell Starc: After having impressed in the tour match against Derbyshire, it looks like Mitchell Starc will finally get his much-awaited crack at the English batsmen in red-ball for the first time this summer. The team balance, the nature of the pitch and his own control and consistency have been some of the factors for his exclusion, but just like his partner Hazlewood, Starc can send out a message to the selectors by feasting on the English batsmen in the fourth Test and in the process, help his side take the urn back home.
Nathan Lyon: For some, he’s the culprit. For the others, he’s a scapegoat. The truth lies somewhere in between, but one thing’s for sure, he is definitely a wounded Lyon, and as the saying goes, “A wounded lion is still fiercer than a strong wolf”. If there’s one thing the off-spinner has proved in his career, it is his mental strength to fight back and recover from arduous situations and maybe England should be aware of this wounded Lyon.
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