This Blockbuster Ashes Should Have More Time to Delight Fans and Protect Players
England won the Headingley Test by 3-wickets [AP Photo]
This 2023 Ashes is simply too good to be condensed as it has been to yield the height of the English summer to The Hundred.
England had cause to rue a litany of missed chances at Edgbaston and reckless batting at Lords, but Australia have ruthlessly taken advantage of any quarter allowed them.
At Headingly, led by Ben Stokes, although England missed costly catches, they found a way to moderate their batting enough, without compromising principles and the addition of Wood’s exhilarating thunderbolts didn’t just keep the series alive, it moved it into warp-speed overdrive.
The oft repeated objective of The Hundred is to attract a younger more diverse audience and the ECB can give you any amount of carefully constructed stats to prove its working. It has done a fine job for the Women’s game and all power to it for that. But surely the high-octane drama of this Ashes series would do as much and more to captivate a broad audience and should be allowed more time to do it in, giving players realistic mental and physical recovery time.
Let’s not forget that 14 out of a possible 15 days have been played, either team could have won each Test and the narrowness of victory margins in each case has placed a premium on each and every session. The Golden Goose is truly being strangled, despite the admirable effort of the England and Australian teams.
The relentlessness of the schedule has imposed careful resource management on both sides and no one seems too sure just how many pieces of Elastoplast and Sellotape are holding Ben Stokes together. Nor, the volume of vinegar used to harden Moeen Ali’s split finger for that matter.
The nine days break is essential for players, but has been torture for fans gripped by the rollicking drama of the series so far. Every day has been a bit longer, every distraction that bit less distracting as time ticks seemingly without end to the next Old Trafford instalment.
A similar hiatus in 2019 worked conclusively in Australia’s favour. Coach Justin Langer’s cancelled leave and forced his troops to rewatch the agonies of the final Headingley day. Unpopular as that was, the collective torment of seeing Stokes, Leach, Lyon, lost reviews and not out decisions all over again, suitably stoked his team’s desire to seek righteous retribution across the Pennines at Old Trafford, where the inevitable Smith’s double ton set up a win to ensure The Ashes were retained.
The Manchester history
For their part, England have good reason to be wary of Manchester, where you have to go back a full forty-two years and 1981 to find their last Ashes victory.
In the series best remembered for Ian Botham’s Headingley heroics, the Somerset allrounder again turned adversity to triumph by following a first innings golden duck with five wickets and a match winning 118 as Australia fell 103 runs short of a mammoth 506 target. How the equally iconic Ben Stokes will want to emulate Botham’s heroics and more importantly that result.
England moved quickly to squash continued debate on who should have the wicket keeping gloves with early confirmation there will be no squad changes. Perhaps inevitably the response from the spurned Ben Foakes, the man that many regard as the country’s best wicket keeper, was to bat assuredly and then simultaneously catch and stump Nottinghamshire’s Will Young at the Oval, with superb agility and lightening reflexes. It’s in the scorebook as caught, but you sense a point was being make by Foakes with the extra flourish.
England have reasoned that with Stokes’s fitness to bowl at best uncertain, Jonny Bairstow keeping the glove provides essential balance if they are to play Moeen Ali and four frontline seamers. Arguments to the contrary from fans and pundits alike will matter not a jot to them. Bairstow himself will know that his form with bat and gloves has to go up a couple of gears if England are to be only the second side in Ashes history to overturn a 2 – 0 deficit.
Two issues were therefore left for them to ponder. With Mark Wood and Stuart Broad surely certainties following Headingley, as was Chris Woakes for his fine efforts with bat and ball, it left one berth to fill from Tongue, Robinson and Anderson.
England crave pace and bounce and Tongue has more of that, notably removing both Warner and Smith twice at Lords. Robinson insists he is fit and fully recovered from the back spasm that restricted him and has 10 series wickets at 28. Leaving Jimmy, with just 3 wickets at 75 so far, out of sorts and ruing ‘Kryptonite’ pitches.
Robinson has been ruled out of the fourth Test [AP Photo]
England have gone with Jimmy, as I suspected they would, the selection based on the conviction that he can rediscover form and potentially take a first Test fivefer at his home ground. If they hadn’t believed that, I’d hate to be the one to break the news to him, but the likely next in line would have been Robinson.
The second debate for England was the number 3 slot. Joe Root is insistent on remaining at 4. It seemed to discomfort Brook in the first innings at Leeds and Moeen Ali admirably put his hand up for the second innings. Comprehensively undone as he was by Starc’s 90 mph wobble seamer, preserving Brook to play with greater freedom in his usual position was ultimately a success. Whilst England may have considered both Root or even Stokes as an option, they have as expected stuck with Mo.
Australia too has conundrums. Boland has been a long way from the wrecking ball of his Melbourne debut. Hazelwood, if fit, will likely come in to get the band back together with Cummins and Starc. Pat Cummins appeared reluctant to trust Murphy at Leeds and Green has issues of form and fitness.
Mitchell Marsh seized the opportunity presented to him in Leeds and will likely keep his place and unless there is no hint that the ball will turn, which would be a surprise at Old Trafford, Murphy too should keep his place.
Which leaves one final question. With Broad licking his lips at the prospect of snagging Warner for an 18th or even 19th time, will McDonald and Cummins finally pull the trigger.
Performances at Lords and in the WTC final, whilst not stellar, hinted that Warner will fight hard for that not to happen. Two tons and an average over 50 for Gloucestershire ensue that Marcus Harris will be in their thoughts, but whilst Warner retains his abrasive chirpiness, he will likely get the nod.
The fourth Test is now just two days away. The world waits with breath far more bated than it will ever be for The Hundred.