England vs Australia | Thursday 06 August - Monday 10 August | Trent Bridge | 12:00
Only once in Ashes history has a team come from 2-1 down to claim the urn. This is as good an indication as any of Australia’s chances heading into the final two Test matches. England romped to victory in the third Test at Edgbaston with a rowdy Barmy Army in full cry and although they arrive at Trent Bridge without their all-time leading wicket-taker, are a mere draw away from ensuring that Australia cannot win the series outright. To stack more evidence against the visitors, Australia have not won a single Test at Trent Bridge during Michael Clarke’s entire career.
To Win Match
The hosts, upon being asked to bowl at Edgbaston, promptly razed Australia for 136 and used only three bowlers to do so among brief rain delays. James Anderson proved the chief destroyer as the Dukes ball hooped whichever way the swing bowler desired. Anderson was bordering on unplayable at times but it must be said that Australia showed neither the mental fortitude nor the technique required in such conditions. Anderson finished with 6/47 and seemed destined to pick up a few more in the second innings before succumbing to a side strain. He will most certainly miss this Test and perhaps the one at the Oval, leaving England without the leader of their attack, all-time highest wicket-taker and Trent Bridge magician. His returns in Nottingham are staggering. England will be forced to turn to one of Mark Wood, Mark Footitt or Liam Plunkett, consensus certainly favouring the first mentioned following good performances in each of the first two Tests. Thankfully for England, Steven Finn returned to acclaim. Finn was beastly in the second innings, his height combined with his eye for a good length completely flummoxing the Australian middle-order and leading to figures of 6/79. He also contributed with a couple of valuable wickets in the first innings including a devastating yorker which accounted for Michael Clarke.
In the batting department, England were far from fantastic. They were just simply much, much better than Australia. Adam Lyth is still struggling in the opening berth and has been found wanting by the rising ball outside off stump. Ian Bell recorded twin fifties under huge pressure for his place, however he didn’t seem completely settled in either innings. Seeing Ian Bell in a rush to attack with reckless abandon seems to suggest a strategy of hitting himself into form instead of naturally allowing the strokes to come to him. Fair enough, he was probably tired of waiting. I still feel that the counter-attacking method applied in the third Test will see him fail more often than not. Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad hung around in the first innings to ensure that England reached a respectable total while Bell and Root formed the partnership to take their side over the line. Aside from that, there was nothing much to write home about from the bat.
Australia lost their first five wickets before crossing a hundred in both innings at Edgbaston. One needs not look further to find the cause of Australia’s demise. A brittle, out of form middle-order capitulated with humiliating ease and changes will certainly be in store for Trent Bridge. Chris Rogers racked up a fifty in the first innings, David Warner one in the second. Apart from the two openers, the entire batting lineup failed. Let’s take a look at the failures from another angle. All of Australia’s bottom five reached double figures in the second innings while David Warner was the only one among the top six. Indeed, Peter Nevill and Mitchell Starc dug out fifties. Batting on the Edgbaston track was not impossible. Australia simply played some very questionable strokes to some very good bowling. Of those available to strengthen the lineup, Shaun Marsh to come in for Adam Voges is the most obvious change. And this is where it becomes tricky. The only other available batsman in the squad is the already dropped Shane Watson.
Of course, all of the attention is firmly focussed on captain Michael Clarke. His simple dropped catch in the slips as Ian Bell began to accelerate in the second innings only serves to exacerbate his woeful form with the bat. Clarke seems unsure of whether to attack or defend and being caught in two minds with the ball swinging is a recipe for disaster. Australia will consider moving him down the order to number five, which would better accommodate the inclusion of Shaun Marsh. And one would be silly to doubt the ability of Clarke. He has most certainly dug himself out of bigger holes before. However, one must also acknowledge that Trent Bridge and the Oval (the setting for the fifth Test) are among Clarke’s worst grounds for run scoring in his entire Test career.
Trent Bridge will host the crucial fourth Test of this Ashes series and England will be pleased to be back at a ground that has been kind to them in recent times. England have won five of the last six Tests played at Trent Bridge, the latest one against India drawn just over a year ago. As mentioned, Australia have had rotten luck at the ground in recent times. Trent Bridge is known to assist the seamers with swing through the air and movement off the surface. Most of the days should be partly cloudy with rain predicted on the final day.
VERDICT: Australia 12/10
This seems a ridiculous verdict and given the price available, Australia are probably too short to give too much interest. However, England’s dominance at Trent Bridge has been a direct result of James Anderson’s exploits and with the chief seamer missing, England could struggle to replicate their blueprint for Trent Bridge success. Additionally, I’ve completely missed the ebbs and flows of this series, picking the wrong winner consistently. It seems as though the concept of momentum in absent in this Ashes series. Back the Australians to take the series down to the wire.