England on brink of winning back the Ashes
NOTTINGHAM, England (AP) — Many pre-series predictions had Trent Bridge as the ground where the Ashes would be clinched.
Few, though, guessed it would be England heading to the fourth test at Nottingham starting on Thursday with the famous urn within reach.
An oscillating, unpredictable series swung back England’s way with an eight-wicket win inside three days at Edgbaston last week, putting the hosts 2-1 up against Australia. One victory for the English in the final two matches will see them regain the Ashes.
The momentum is on England’s side — although that may not be a reliable guide.
The team’s record over the last seven tests reads: Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. No other team in test history has registered such a bizarre sequence.
“We are consistently the most inconsistent side,” England bowler Stuart Broad said. “We have to change that.”
If they succeed in doing so at Trent Bridge, England will have won a fourth straight Ashes series on home soil. That’s no mean feat considering the Australians arrived in Britain in June as the heavy favorites and still buoyant from a 5-0 whitewash of their old foes Down Under 18 months previously.
However, cracks are appearing in what was initially viewed as a tight unit. Players are struggling for form with the bat — notably captain Michael Clarke, with just 94 runs in six innings this series — and paceman Mitchell Johnson is carrying the bowling attack.
Australia showed its class in a 405-run win in the second test, but was thrashed in the first and third tests.
“We need to really improve in this game,” Johnson said Tuesday. “It’s like a grand final for us.”
Trent Bridge is known to be a swing bowler’s paradise, which makes the absence of injured paceman Jimmy Anderson all the more tough to take for England.
The country’s all-time leading wicket-taker has a side strain, picked up during the third test, that deprives him of the opportunity of adding to his record of 53 wickets in eight tests in Nottingham — at an average of less than 20. Anderson had a 10-wicket haul here in the 2013 Ashes.
“It’s a massive loss for them,” Johnson said.
Mark Wood is likely to replace Anderson after having treatment on an ankle injury that ruled him out of the Edgbaston test. Wood practiced in the nets this week, and England captain Alastair Cook said the paceman was fit and in pole position for a recall.
“It looks really good for Woody,” Cook said on Wednesday. “He has looked fit and ready. He is excited to have the opportunity he has got.”
Liam Plunkett and uncapped left-armer Mark Footitt are other pace options for England.
Adam Lyth will retain his place as opening batsman, despite only averaging 12 this series and looking tentative outside his off-stump.
Australia may opt for a change in personnel, with Peter Siddle potentially returning to the bowling attack and Adam Voges’ place in the batting lineup looking shaky.
One thing is for sure: Clarke will remain in the team.
“I have no intention to walk away from cricket,” Clarke wrote in his column in The Daily Telegraph, ”... I want to keep playing for Australia beyond this series, however I will be judged on performance like everyone else.”
The experienced Brad Haddin is once again set to miss out, with Peter Nevill likely to be preferred as wicketkeeper for a third straight test. Australia coach Darren Lehmann has dismissed suggestions that Haddin’s demotion has caused tension in the touring party.
“To lose someone like Hadds, and I guess in the situation it was, it’s very difficult for everyone. More so for him. I’ll probably just leave it at that,” Johnson said in an uneasy remark about the issue.