Joe Root wants England to make the most of still being “very much alive” in the Ashes when the fourth Test against Australia starts at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Australia were on the brink of retaining the Ashes only for Ben Stokes’s superb 135 not out to guide England to a stunning one-wicket win in the third Test at Leeds.
The all-rounder’s Headingley heroics have left the five-match series poised at 1-1 with two to play.
“He’s very passionate and just a genuinely good bloke. When you combine that with the skill and ability he has it’s a great combination,” said England captain Root of Stokes, his deputy.
England’s remarkable win at Root’s Yorkshire home ground captured the attention of home fans, with the skipper insisting: “It’s a big lift for the whole squad, for that game to unravel how it did and for us to turn up here full of confidence and very much alive in this series.
“I feel that everyone has really got behind both teams, especially off the back of the last week in Test cricket. It’s great to see Test cricket seen in that light in this country, and globally as well.”
Meanwhile, under-fire Australia captain Tim Paine said: “I haven’t lost a hell of a lot of sleep thinking about my captaincy but I have lost a bit of sleep thinking how we’re going to get him (Stokes) out.
“He’s a class player and he’s really confident at the moment,” admitted the wicketkeeper, looking to lead Australia to their first Ashes series win in England in 18 years.
“We’ve got some plans for him but we’ve just got to execute them a bit better.”
– ‘Problem solver’ Smith –
Australia will make at least one change, with star batsman Steve Smith returning from the concussion he suffered after being hit by a 92mph Jofra Archer bouncer that ruled him out of the third Test.
Former Australia captain Smith, in his first Test series since a 12-month ball-tampering ban, has scored 378 runs in three innings at an average of 126, including two hundreds in the Edgbaston opener.
Usman Khawaja, averaging just 20.33 this Ashes, has been dropped to make way for Smith, who returned to the top of the ICC’s Test batting rankings on Tuesday.
As for suggestion that Smith, his predecessor as Australia captain, had suffered psychological as well as physical damage in being felled by World Cup-winner Archer, Paine said: “He came back from a 12-month layoff pretty well so I expect he will handle six days without (Test) batting pretty well.
“Steve Smith, as ‘JL’ (Australia coach Justin Langer) said, is the greatest problem solver in cricket.
“That’s what makes him the best batsman in the world.
Australia left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc will hope to make his first appearance this Ashes on the quickest pitch of the series.
“We know what he can do to tail-end batters when he cranks it up,” said Paine.
“The boys have been calling him ‘the mop’ for a few years now. We think this wicket might suit him.”
England have made one change, with fast bowler Craig Overton replacing the dropped Chris Woakes in the ongoing absence of James Anderson.
England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, Anderson has been sidelined from Ashes duty since Edgbaston with a calf injury that has also ruled him out of the last two Tests.
Overton’s first Test wicket came when he bowled Smith at Adelaide in 2017.
“This ground does perform slightly differently with an extra bit of bounce and a taller bowler (Overton is 6ft 5in or 1.96 metres) will give us an extra option to go to,” Root explained.
England were dismissed for just 67 in their first innings at Headingley.
But rather than change their batsmen England have merely changed their order, with struggling opener Jason Roy, and number four Joe Denly, who made a fine fifty in the Headingley run chase, swopping places.
“He hasn’t scored the runs he would have liked,” said Root of World Cup star Roy.
“Jason is a high quality player and could be better suited to four.”
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