Ashes diary: Lord's fallout and selection dilemmas ahead of the third Ashes Test

A thrilling conclusion to the second Test at Lord's
A thrilling conclusion to the second Test at Lord's

Richard Mann's latest Ashes diary looks back on a thrilling drawn Test at Lord's and considers whether England have the momentum as they bid to level the series in Leeds.

Memories of 2005 evoked...

We've witnessed some memorable Ashes series in recent years, England's victory in Australia in 2010/2011 easily the most notable achievement, but none have been able to capture the public's imagination quite like the 2005 series.

England's triumph over Ricky Ponting's team of Galácticos 14 years ago was a series that struck the country down with Ashes fever, chiefly for the outstanding cricket that was played by both sides but also the manner in which it was played and the personalities on the field who delivered some of the most enthralling sport imaginable.

Shane Warne, Andrew Flintoff, Ponting, Kevin Pietersen, Glenn McGrath, Michael Vaughan; these were some of the greatest players of our generation and they delivered a series for the ages.

There have certainly been some wonderful Ashes contests since, James Anderson bowling England to victory on a nerve-wracking final day of the first Test at Trent Bridge in 2013 a case in point, but the hosts went on to win that series 3-0 and the summer as a whole failed to live up to the early promise.

This time around, there are genuine reasons to believe that we could be in for another classic and one that will truly capture the imagination, both in the UK and around the cricketing the world.

The British public had already awoken from its cricket slumber following England's dramatic World Cup final triumph over New Zealand and despite Australia landing the first blow in Birmingham, the ferocity of the cricket played by both sides for much of that contest made for compelling viewing with a typically electric Edgbaston atmosphere only ramping up the tension.

If Edgbaston was a sign of things to come, Lord's took things to another level with a packed crowd glued to the action as England pushed hard for a series-levelling victory on day five.

It was brilliant Test cricket, neither side giving an inch, but it was the events of the previous day that truly set this series alive.

Jofra Archer's brutal pace barrage against Australia batsman Steve Smith was as absorbing as it was terrifying, the Sussex paceman marking his Test debut by producing a relentless eight-over spell after lunch that saw him constantly top 90mph and reach a staggering 96mph.

Smith, fresh from brilliant twin hundreds at Edgbaston, stood up to all that Archer had to throw at him but following nasty blows to the gloves and his left forearm, was clearly rattled.

Usually so calm and assured at the crease, and blessed with such wonderful hand-eye coordination that he always seems to have so much time when facing pace, Smith was now rushed and rattled, playing the hook shot instinctively, swinging wild punches like a wounded boxer in a desperate attempt to stem the blows raining in on his head.

It was pure theatre, two elite sportsmen at the top of their games staring each other down in a battle that might well define this Ashes series and prove the centrepiece for many to come.

For Smith, his desperate and wholehearted fight was to eventually prove in vain, Archer delivering the perfect bouncer, lightning quick and piercing through air until thudding into his neck.

Silence. Then Smith fell to ground. More silence.

Let's not forget it was only five years ago that Smith's close friend, Phillip Hughes, was killed when struck in the neck from a bouncer when batting for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales and those tragic events were at the front of minds as Smith lay motionless on the Lord's turf.

Finally, with the help of his Rajasthan Royals teammate, Jos Buttler, and medical staff from the Australian and England dressings rooms, Smith got to his feet and was walked from the field to a standing ovation.

For a short time, Smith wasn't the disgraced ex-captain who cheated in South Africa, he was a wounded warrior being led from the field of battle, and when he returned with eyes on a Lord's century and a place on the famous honours board, the majority of the packed crowd replaced the boos and jeers with a warm standing ovation.

There would, however, be no century. The sight of Archer limbering up appeared to leave Smith in a hurry to reach three figures and so scrambled was his mind, he was dismissed lbw soon after, inexplicably leaving a straight ball from Chris Woakes that crashed into his pads.

The battle was over, for now, but the prospect of Archer v Smith for the rest of the summer and for years to come is such an exciting one that is sure to leave the stands packed and the get viewers and listeners tuning in around the globe.

For now, Australia must only hope that their star batsman is passed fit for the third Test in Leeds and that there are no mental scars from such a frightening blow.

Smith remains the absolute key to Australia's fragile batting line-up and for all Australia hold a 1-0 lead in the series and are currently in possession of the Ashes, Archer's arrival and James Anderson's expected return at Old Trafford means that England are the ones who head to Leeds with a spring in their step.

Joe Root's men still have it all to do to win back the Ashes but, crucially, they sense that it is they who have the momentum and heading back up north to Leeds and the scene of the most famous comeback of them all back in 1981, they genuinely believe they can produce something special in the last three Tests.

If they can, cricket fever might well reach epidemic levels and we could well see one of the greatest Ashes stories of them all.

Selection quandaries

Confirmation that England have named an unchanged 12-man squad for Headingley looks a sensible move in light of news that Anderson will bid to prove his fitness for the fourth Test at Old Trafford by playing second XI cricket for Lancashire this week.

England's only possible move now could be to replace Chris Woakes with Sam Curran, the former performing really well in the series so far but bowling very few overs in the second innings at Edgbaston or again at Lord's, suggesting a knee niggle might be giving him more serious trouble than has been disclosed.

Back-to-back Test matches are never easy on the body, particularly for fast bowlers, and Curran's impressive performances against India last summer illustrate that for all he might lack the genuine pace to develop into an opening bowler for England, he is a very fine cricketer and one who won't let England down in these conditions.

Sam Curran
Sam Curran

Should Woakes line up as England's third seamer again, the hosts will be unchanged with the England think tank seemingly keen to give Jason Roy more time to prove himself at the top of the order despite four low scores in the series so far.

There is the possibility that Roy could slip down to number four or five in the order but that would mean Joe Denly being asked to open the batting and that is an idea I can't get on board with.

After five Tests, Denly is still trying to establish himself as an international cricketer and he has batted well in this series so far, scores of 30 and 26 at Lord's showing him to be a fine technician with the game to succeed at this level.

Nevertheless, he is still without a significant score in the series and needs big runs soon. Asking him to now open the batting, having started the summer at number three and then found himself moved down to number four after the Test match against Ireland, would be unfair and risks derailing his international career before it gets moving.

As for Australia, they have plenty to consider over the next few days, most significantly with Steve Smith.

Should the medical team pass him fit for Headingley, his presence will be a huge boost to Australia but it will leave Justin Langer and Tim Paine wondering just how they can find room for Marnus Labuschagne in their starting XI.

Having replaced Smith as Test cricket's first concussion substitute on Sunday, Labuschagne batted beautifully for his composed 59 and it is not exaggerating the point to say that without his rearguard, Australia would probably have been bowled out in the second innings and slipped to a day-five defeat.

What was even more impressive about Labuschagne's efforts were that his half-century came after he had been hit on the grille second ball from yet another vicious Archer bouncer.

Marnus Labuschagne
Marnus Labuschagne is hit by a Jofra Archer bouncer

Labuschagne simply dusted himself down and got on with the task at hand, unfurling some wonderful strokes against both pace and spin and strongly suggesting that he has the character and skill that Australia can ill-afford to leave sat on the sidelines in Leeds.

His useful leg-spin bowling could prove a very handy tool for Paine to have at his disposal going forward, particularly with Old Trafford and The Oval on the horizon, but should Smith satisfy the Australian medical staff by Thursday, it would mean Cameron Bancroft or even David Warner missing out.

The case for dropping Bancroft is obvious. He has endured a torrid time in the series so far and Usman Khawaja has already made a Test match hundred when opening the batting against South Africa.

Should Bancroft miss out to make way for Labuschagne, Khawaja has the game to return to the top of the order for a short while at least but there is a case for arguing that the axe should fall on Warner's head and not Bancroft's.

Warner has struggled badly against Stuart Broad all summer, the Nottinghamshire veteran targeting him with an aggressive full-length attack that brings the stumps and lbw into play more than in past meetings between the two.

All too often, Broad and Anderson have been guilty of allowing Warner to score freely off the back foot through the point region, but not this summer, and judging by the host of catches Warner dropped at first slip at Lord's, the pressure appears to be telling and the cracks beginning to form.

Like all champion players, Warner cannot be written off too quickly but England's attack shows no sign of relenting, nor does the hostile and seemingly unforgiving British public, and the importance of Bancroft's exceptional short-leg fielding should not be underestimated, particularly for a bowling attack that relies so heavily on Nathan Lyon's off-spin and the short-ball tactics employed so well by Pat Cummins at Lord's.

A seemingly straightforward decision might be more complex than it seems.

Talking of Cummins, it will be fascinating to see whether he backs up at Leeds on Thursday.

True to their word, Australia have adopted a rotation policy with their armoury of world-class fast bowlers, James Pattinson getting the nod over Josh Hazlewood for the series opener before the latter was brought in fresh for the second Test at Lord's.

It was a decision that certainly bore fruit, Pattinson impressing in the first innings in Birmingham before Hazlewood claimed three early wickets in a probing new-ball spell in the early exchanges in London.

With Mitchell Starc waiting in the wings and Pattinson sure to be keen to get back in the mix, Australia might well be considering giving Cummins a breather with the paceman having sent down 82.3 overs in the series already, more than any other seamer on either side.

There is no doubting that there is enough firepower sat on the Australian bench to give Cummins a rest before the final two Tests but this is no ordinary situation and this is no ordinary fast bowler.

Cummins is now the number-one ranked bowler in the world and the leading wicket-taker in the series so far with 13 scalps.

Pat Cummins
Pat Cummins

He passed 100 Test wickets in the first Test at Edgbaston, making him the fastest Australian to reach the milestone in 124 years, and since Paine has taken over the captaincy, Cummins has quickly become the most important member of his bowling attack.

England would certainly be happy to see Cummins rested in Leeds, those 13 scalps in the series coming at a staggering average of 16.30 with a miserly economy of only 2.56.

What has been most impressive about Cummins is his ability to find a way to take wickets in different ways and in different conditions.

Where Hazlewood was outstanding with the new-ball in the first innings, he looked ineffective in the second innings when the pitch was dead and there was little sideways movement on offer, while Starc's own axing from the side came on the back of poor home series against India and Sri Lanka where he offered little threat to the top order, proving too expensive for Langer and Paine's new Australian style of play.

Cummins, on the other hand, would appear to be the full package, taking wickets up front with the new ball before being able to come back with new plans for the old ball, whether it be bowling 'dry' or delivering long spells of fast short-pitched bowling that has caused the likes of Rory Burns and Woakes problems already this summer.

With Archer's emergence finally giving England the upper hand in the pace stakes, it might well be time for Australia to bring Starc back into the fold, if only only to match fire with fire in the intimidation stakes, but leaving Cummins out in Leeds would be a huge call.

So far, Australia have been true to their word with their rotation policy as they look to have their pacemen '100 per cent cherry ripe' on the day but that stance will be tested this week, with the series on the line and the best bowler in the world in their ranks and desperate to help Australia keep their hands on the urn.

Resting Cummins just isn't an option.

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