The Ashes fourth Test: Free betting preview and tips for England v Australia at Old Trafford

Fourth Ashes Test Preview
Fourth Ashes Test Preview

The Ashes circus moves to Old Trafford on Wednesday with the series all square after Ben Stokes' heroics at Headingley - read Richard Mann's preview here.

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4pts Australia to beat England at 7/4


Momentum.

Few words have been more overused in sport and as England head over the Pennines to Manchester for the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford, they will be sure that it is they who have the momentum following Ben Stokes' remarkable heist in Leeds just over a week ago.

Just like England, there are some who are firm believers in momentum and what it can do in sport.

That last-minute winner can turn a team's season on its head and spark an irresistible run of form, or that one mistake which alters the course of a snooker match and, indeed, a snooker tournament - think Thepchaiya Un-Nooh's horrible miscue in the final frame of his first-round World Snooker Championship clash with Judd Trump earlier this year. But for that, Trump might not be world champion.

There are others, of course, who have little time for the notion of momentum, preferring to accept the ups and downs of sport with the belief that over the course of a long tournament or season - or in this case a five-match Test series - the best team or player will typically come out on top.

In truth, I'm probably somewhere in between but the betting would certainly appear to be in the momentum camp and as such, Australia are now far too big at 7/4 to win the fourth Test and thus reclaim the Ashes in Manchester.

Even the most loyal of England fans would struggle to argue that Joe Root's side have done any more than match Australia in the series so far and that they deserve to be any better off than level at 1-1 with two to play.

Joe Root marks his 50 during England's second innings at Headingley
Joe Root marks his 50 during England's second innings at Headingley

Australian fans, and it is often their way, would be keen to point out that the tourists have been the best side on show so far and I'm inclined to agree on this occasion.

Australia ran out commanding winners of the first Test in Birmingham, batted out for a draw at Lord's after Tim Paine unwisely opted to bowl first, and then dominated for much of the third Test at Headingley - despite having to bat in the worst conditions of the match on day one - until Stokes somehow kept the series alive with his unforgettable and almost unbelievable solo.

Despite the emergence of Jofra Archer, England's bowling attack has clearly missed James Anderson's control and creativity and as such, the impressive Stuart Broad has had to carry a hefty burden on his 33-year-old body with the Nottinghamshire paceman passing the 100 overs bowled mark in the series already.

Even with Stokes' herculean efforts affording England a fifth bowling option that Australia have been forced to do without, the visiting attack has more depth to it with Pat Cummins able to go from the role of enforcer to container in the blink of an eye and Josh Hazlewood's return to full fitness seeing him revel with the Dukes ball in hand.

With Peter Siddle and James Pattinson both showing up well in their respective two outings so far, and Mitchell Starc said to be close to a recall following a strong showing in the Tour game against Derbyshire last week, Australia will feel Anderson's absence gives them the clear advantage in the pace bowling department, just as Nathan Lyon does should Old Trafford and The Oval encourage as much spin as they have done in recent years.

Since taking nine wickets at Edgbaston, Lyon has been a little quieter than usual but he has still picked up 14 wickets in the series so far and for all the likes of Stokes and Rory Burns have played him well, Lyon can rightfully feel aggrieved with a number of missed chances off his bowling and poor umpiring decisions that have cost him dear.

Nathan Lyon fails to complete a simple run out
Nathan Lyon fails to complete a simple run out

Of course, Lyon will need to show great character to move on from that now famous missed run out opportunity at Headingley but this is a man with over 350 Test wickets to his name and he will surely play a part in the next couple of weeks on surfaces that ought to help him a great deal.

Should Lyon find his groove again, that could spell danger for an England batting line-up that is beginning to look even more frail than it did when Ireland rolled them out for 85 at Lord's earlier in the summer.

Burns' promising start to the series has met a few roadblocks in recent weeks, chiefly Australia's plan to use the short ball against him, while the ridiculous experiment to open the batting with Jason Roy has finally been shelved, meaning Joe Denly will now bat in his third different position of the summer.

Moving back up to open at a few days notice will be a huge challenge for Denly, particularly against Cummins, whose ability to bring the ball back off the seam has caused him problems already.

Batting first up against Cummins will put Denly's generally sound technique under pressure and in truth, he has been sold down the river by the England management in order to afford Roy more rope and try to justify a poor initial selection.

Denly has shaped with plenty of promise at number four without truly nailing down the position but his crucial second innings half-century at Headingley helped set up England's mammoth chase of 359 and gave hope of a brighter future for a top order that has struggled badly in recent years.

Joe Denly goes on the attack
Joe Denly

Another reshuffle later and England look panicked again and with Roy's confidence seemingly shot to pieces and his judgement outside off stump poor, and both Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler some way from their best form, Australia will be confident that they also hold the aces in the batting department.

David Warner found some form at Headingley, Marnus Labuschagne has looked every inch a top-class player since coming back into the side and Steve Smith is fully fit again having missed the third Test due to concussion.

The resumption of hostilities between him and Archer promises to be something to behold once more but from three innings in the series so far, Smith has made 378 runs at an average of 126.00 and the fact Australia ought to have won without him at Headingley bodes well ahead of his return.

Old Trafford and The Oval next week should offer surfaces that suit Smith's style of play, being fast and true and providing less encouragement to the seam and swing bowlers that can sometimes cause him problems on or around fourth stump.

I expect Smith to resume where he left off and for all the talk of momentum, his return and the news that Anderson won't be joining him on the field at Old Trafford feels like a hammer blow for England and a huge boost to Australia.

Steve Smith: Australia batsman returned from concussion against Derbyshire
Australia batsman Steve Smith returned from concussion against Derbyshire

Furthermore, this is the best position a touring Australian side has found themselves in since the 2005 Ashes, where the score was also 1-1 after three matches.

In the three series on these shores since, Australia had either relinquished the Ashes by this point or found themselves behind in the series and now that the dust has settled on events in Leeds, they can reassert from what's already a position of strength.

Paine will no doubt have spent the last 10 ten days reminding his side of that fact and with two Test matches to play - on flat, hard, bouncy surfaces that generally suit Australia's style of play - Australia are entitled to feel right at home and confident of regaining the urn.

Old Trafford didn't stage an Ashes Test back in the 2015, but The Oval did, and Australia won comfortably while they would surely have secured victory in Manchester in 2013 had the rain not arrived to save England on day five.

Australia will have been targeting the final two Test matches before the series got under way and the very fact the tourists have more than held their own in English fortresses such as Edgbaston and Headingley says so much about the quality within their ranks.

Having already had one shot at Ashes glory in Leeds, I don't expect Australia to miss a second time with Smith back in their ranks and playing on surfaces that should suit their style of cricket and the weaponry within their ranks.

Forget momentum, this is the chance Australia have been waiting for and at 7/4, they must be backed accordingly.

Posted at 1705 BST on 02/09/19.

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