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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Ashes Test: England have edge, Aussies are rattled

For England to win the last three Test matches against a side as good as Australia would be an incredible achievement

Michael Vaughan Published 11.07.23, 05:40 AM
Team Australia

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The impossible is still on. For England to win the last three Test matches against a side as good as Australia would be an incredible achievement. Now, they’re one-third of the way there — and they’ve got a template to win the last two Tests too.

No one can deny how difficult it is going to be, but England can still win this Ashes series 3-2. England have the momentum.

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It is so difficult to win an Ashes series away from home and Australia were tantalisingly close. To pick themselves up from this psychological blow will be a huge challenge for Pat Cummins and his side.

England are over their first hurdle — they’ve won a Test match. To win the last two games in English conditions they’ve got to hope that the weather helps them. But the rate at which England score means that, if we lose the odd day to rain, they’ll still probably be a result.

For Harry Brook to keep his cool under so much pressure so early in his Test career against the best on his home turf tells me he is made of something special. The move back to No.5 in the second innings was a masterstroke by England.

I like teams that do things for the here and now that are a bit out of the box. I love to see cricket teams cleverly think about those tactical manouevres to help the team. Moeen Ali batting at three was one of those. On the face of it, it didn’t work: he only scored five. But Moeen’s move meant that Brook could revert back to five, where he’s much more comfortable.

It wouldn’t worry me if Moeen stayed batting at three. Ben Stokes could also bat at three — but after what he’s done at six so far this series, I’d rather he stayed there.

There’s going to be a lot of focus on England’s batting after such a thrilling run chase. But we should be clear: it’s the bowling that has really won England this Test match and got them back into the series. This England side have found a way with the ball in hand just to create doubt in Australia’s minds. The Aussies haven’t passed 300 in their past three innings.

Mark Wood was a revelation at Headingley. He had the Aussies rattled — not just the tail, who he blew away, but also the top order. We saw that from the moment that he clean bowled Usman Khawaja for pace on the first day. What a brilliant performance on his return.

Chris Woakes has shown once again what a good a cricketer he is in English conditions. We talk about the all round brilliance from Stokes — but Woakes, with his under-the-radar approach, is always someone you want with the Dukes ball. He always delivers here in England.

Woakes averages 22 with the ball in English conditions. He’s also a threat with the bat as well. He showed all his calm and nous in his crucial innings on the fourth day.

Stuart Broad has been exceptional all series. I don’t think any of us thought he’d play all five Tests this series, but Broad just seems to be getting better and better — and he is keeping that hold over David Warner. I think he should play at Old Trafford. I don’t want to hear about him being rested — we’ve got nine days now before the fourth Test.

So I’d play Wood, Woakes and Broad at Old Trafford. If Ollie Robinson isn’t fit, that leaves a big decision about the last seamer. Don’t just pick Jimmy Anderson just because it’s Jimmy Anderson at the Jimmy Anderson End. You can’t be sentimental in an Ashes series. England should only pick Anderson if they genuinely believe he’s a bigger threat than Josh Tongue, who bowled really well at Lord’s. With Tongue and Wood together, England could also go even further in their short-ball approach.

When the bowling is firing like this, it makes the batting approach work so much better too. If Australia get 500 runs in a Test, then England effectively only need to bat for 125 overs in a Test to win. That’s a lot easier than thinking they have to bat for 160 overs.

Bazball is sometimes too risky and can bring the opposition into the game. But Australia in their second innings showed the dangers of playing it far too safe. You saw how Australia played Moeen Ali on the second day — 17 overs for 34 runs. Then when Australia tried to be more attacking they almost seemed confused, and Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith both got out to soft dismissals.

Everything that I saw at Headingley with this England side illustrated to me that they were so switched on. Day one at Lord’s they were not switched on. In Leeds the actual bowling and the switchedon nature of the fielding was magnificent.

I think England made a lot of mistakes at Headingley — with their catching, and with some of their shot selection.

They can get better — which is dangerous for Australia — and they showed that they can win without Stokes being the hero every time.

But I still think they need to sharpen up in the field to square the series.

England love a raucous crowd — and Old Trafford will be exactly the same. They’re a rock star team, at their best with the crowd all going wild. And they’re led by a rock star captain, who absolutely loves the big stage. It doesn’t get any bigger than a home Ashes series, when the matches are as close as this and the stakes are so high.

So England have a good chance to build on this win and deliver again at Old Trafford. If we can get to the Oval at 2-2, with one to play it will be the greatest Test series in my lifetime.

  • England vs Australia: 4th Test, Manchester, July 19-23

The Daily Telegraph in London

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