The Ashes Fourth Test Betting Preview : Steve Smith to shine on return
- Old Trafford, Manchester
- 4-8 September
- Live on Sky Sports
After the intense drama of the third Test at Headingley, the atmosphere is set to be electric at Old Trafford for the fourth match of the series where both England and Australia will be looking to pick up a win and guarantee that they cannot lose the series.
Ben Stokes’ masterful 135 not out is still fresh in the memories of cricket fans everywhere as his stunning innings levelled the series at 1-1 with two Tests to play. The match, and the Ashes, appeared to have slipped away from England in Leeds but the all-rounder, along with valuable contributions from the likes of Joe Root, Joe Denly and Jack Leach kept the series alive.
The little urn is still very much in the balance and Australia know that they only need to win one of the final two games to keep hold of the Ashes as a draw sees the prize stay in the hands of the holders. England must win one and avoid defeat in the other remaining Test to spectacularly reclaim the trophy.
Back comes Smith and he will still be unstoppable
Steve Smith is available again after his concussion problems, and there is some debate over who he will replace in the Australian line-up. Marnus Labuschagne came in for Smith but has been very impressive and will not lose his spot, meaning it will be Travis Head, Usman Khawaja or Matthew Wade who will miss out. None have really done enough to guarantee their places so all will be nervous ahead of team selection.
With Smith back in the team, England will return to their endless struggle to get him out, and will find it incredibly difficult once again. They do now have the impressive weapon that is Archer in their attack, and Leach is more of a threat than Moeen Ali was in the first Test, but it will still be a huge ask.
It will be very interesting to see how Smith deals with Archer after the England bowler took him out of the last match thanks to a fierce bouncer. It will also be intriguing to see if the pace bowler goes after Smith’s head again after causing him injury at Lord’s.
Either way, Smith is the world’s premier batsman and we have to believe that he won’t be too rattled by the knock on the head a couple of weeks ago. The former captain is averaging 126 in this series and has managed two centuries and a half-century in his three innings. In a team in which only Labuschagne looks to be also in form with the bat, Smith is an obvious and easy choice to be his team’s best batsman.
It is time for Root to play a captain's innings
England are unikely to make any changes to thier team now Jimmy Anderson has been ruled out for the rest of the series with the calf injury that has been troubling him.
There could be a change to the batting order, though, with Jason Roy struggling so much opening up. He could be demoted to four or five, with Joe Denly or even Joe Root moved up to the top two - most likely Denly.
Wherever Root comes in to bat, it is time for him to step up to the plate and play a crucial, big innings for his team. The Yorkshireman has hit a couple of half-centuries this series but not made three figures yet and has been out for a duck twice. His 77 in the third Test was crucial in England securing an unlikely victory and showed that his form is not too far away, although his dismissal to Nathan Lyon was quite disappointing.
It is very unlikely that the England captain will go through the entire series without making a ton and Old Trafford looks like a very good place to do it. Three years ago on this ground Root produced a master class to beat Pakistan, scoring 254 in the first innings and 71 not out in the second. Last time he played a Test in Manchester he made 52 and 49 so he can clearly score runs here.
With the terrible fragility at the top of the order for England, Root knows full well that he needs to find his best form, and the miracle of Headingley will hopefully inspire him to do just that. He is favourite to be his side'stop run scorer, but remains a good price for it.
The Manchester weather cannot be trusted
Unfortunately, the efforts of the 22 players on display may be for no result as this match is being played in Manchester in September, which is probably a really, really bad idea.
It has been a pretty good British summer, but even so we have lost significant parts of matches in this series. England were seemingly denied a victory at Lord’s after the entire first day was lost to rain. Now we head to one of the wettest cities in the country in September and the idea of getting five full days of play is almost laughable.
The early weather forecast suggests that Friday could be a complete washout, with rain scheduled for the entire day. The other four days are not as bad, with just around a 20% chance of rain, but this is Manchester and we have to expect some drizzle to spoil play at points.
This sees us leaning towards a draw and there is more evidence to suggest this, with some big scores being made by Lancashire at Old Trafford this season. Their last County Championship match there saw them post 494-6 declared against Sussex and made 415 there earlier in the season.
With Smith back in the Aussie line-up and England’s middle order finding a bit of form, the batting should improve in this Test where it has been largely questionable throughout the series so far.
An improvement from the batsmen and the inevitable dodgy weather will call this one a draw and take us to a thrilling deciding Test at the Oval.
- England have not lost a Test at Old Trafford since 2001 against Pakistan
- Australia have drawn their last two Tests held at Old Trafford
- England have not beaten Australia in Manchester since 1981
- Steve Smith is the series' highest run scorer (378) despite playing just three innings
- Ben Stokes is his closest rival (327) having played twice as many innings
- Pat Cummins in the leading wicket taker, with 17 scalps at 18.52
- Stuart Broad is England's leading wicket taker with 14 at 25.35
- Jofra Archer has played one match less than Broad, taking 13 wickets at 13.53
- Ben Stokes has hit 11 sixes this series, seven more than any other player
- Joe Root is yet to manage a century this series with a high score of 77