Two tests into the 2015 Ashes, England and Australia are tied at 1-1. After pulling off an upset at Cardiff, England were demolished at Lords. And suddenly, their new-look squad doesn’t look so new. 10 years ago at Edgbaston, one of the greatest test matches in modern history was played out – when Kasprowicz, who was a last-minute replacement for an injured McGrath – gloved a ball down the leg side to Geraint Jones, with Australia falling short of the target by 2 runs after staging a brave comeback on the final day. That incident changed the 2005 series, giving England a timeless 2-1 victory in the greatest series ever played. Flintoff, KP and Vaughan had stamps made on them after the series, and life was good.
England enters the same venue in a somewhat different situation.
Gary Ballance has finally been cut, and in his place comes an unrecognizable Jonny Bairstow, who last played a test two years ago in the Ashes. Mark Wood looks doubtful, and could be replaced by Finn, subject to a fitness test. Opener Lyth is struggling, but he will be given another test before any drastic measures are taken. Cook will need to inspire his fallen troops, and the likes of Root, Stokes and Buttler will have to step up and prove how electric they can be if they’re to defeat a hardened Aussie team. Man to man, England have a weaker team, but only because Ian Bell – who will now be their new number 3 – has been woefully out of form. The silken Englishman needs to rediscover his touch this series after a year (22.16) that has seen him struggle more than India’s outgoing number 3, Pujara.
With Cook, Lyth and Bell at 1, 2 and 3, this could be their trial by fire. Only Bell remains from that 2005 Ashes test. Only time will tell if that can inspire him.
Brad Haddin has been denied a place, and new keeper Peter Nevill has been chosen as the first-choice keeper. Haddin had a poor first test in Cardiff, before he pulled out due to family reasons in Lords. His nightmare came true when Nevill made a solid debut, pouching 7 and scoring quickly to help his team. Nevill becomes only the 5th first-choice keeper for Australia in the last 27 years after Healy, Gilchrist, Haddin and Wade. One suspects this is the end of Haddin’s career, and only an injury to Nevill can see him come back. Australia is expected to retain the same team as Lords, and Clarke has been the only struggling batsman in the line-up. Shaun Marsh may have to wait his chance again, for opener Chris Rogers could be fit after a dizzy spell at Lords. Rogers has declared that this is his last series. Brother Mitchell Marsh however will retain his spot ahead of Shane Watson, and the bowling line-up looks fierce with Johnson back in form.
If Warner rediscovers his touch too, Australia will be impossible to beat. Steven Smith could also become the third quickest Aussie batsman to reach 3000 test runs. He has averaged 97 in the last year.
Australia has the momentum, but England has the memories. England has also won 3 out of their last 6 tests, often followed by a defeat, so momentum rarely matters for this team. The toss will be important, but one expects Australia to pull ahead now that they’ve rediscovered their mojo. Having said that, they haven’t led a series in England since 2001.