Australia were clinical in the fourth Test in all departments of the game against a lackluster England team. Steve Smith didn't look like he was ever concussed—he tore apart England's bowling attack with disdain. His spellbinding double century at Old Trafford demonstrated his penchant for scoring big runs and that marathon knock in the first innings ensured Australia's ascendancy over subdued England side.
All hopes of a fascinating turnaround after Ben Stokes' staggering performance at Headingley faded away as Australia gyrated against their frenemies, routing them by a whopping 185-run margin. The visitors were helped significantly by their superior bowling attack that broke England's batting partnerships at critical junctures of the match.
England was in a quandary about who to pick between Craig Overton or Sam Curran for the Old Trafford Test. Overton made the cut eventually but he and his abetters couldn't make inroads which allowed Australia to put on a mammoth first innings total of 497. Overton, though, showed defiance with the bat and played out 105 balls in the last innings while fighting to salvage a draw. He will make way for Sam Curran and Chris Woakes for the last tussle. Also, Stokes would play as a specialist batsman owing to his shoulder injury.
England are not short of reasons to strive in the last Test: They need the win at The Oval to bag World Test Championship points, draw the series for pride, and for the confidence that they would like to carry in the next series against New Zealand. England have been good in patches; they were dented by untimely injury of James Anderson that allowed Australia to dominate.
England batting has been low key. The dependables haven't repaid the faith of selectors and are now under the pump. After hitting a purple patch in the ODI format, much more was expected from the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, and Joe Root who haven't lived up to their reputation and looked meek when the going got tough. Jack Leach and Overton didn't have to persevere during their secondary duties; this brings to attention the need for a team effort instead of a few individual performances as it often deprives teams of winning consistently. Relying on tailenders to save a match highlights England's predicament in the last couple of weeks.
Australia have been fiercely competitive throughout the Ashes and are in a great position to clinch their first Test series win in England in 18 years if they manage to overpower hosts at The Oval. Smith, who has been unfazed by the crowd jeering, will be eying bigger milestones and will be acting again as the mighty 'Wall of China' in front of England's bowling options. The bouncer that ruled him out of one Test didn't ruffle him. If anything, Jofra Archer's bumper riled him up and brought out his best show in the preceding Test match.
Australia have recalled Mitchell Marsh in place of Travis Head to further bolster the already star-studded bowling line-up. Tim Paine will enjoy the luxury of a myriad of bowling options. The number one ranked bowler Pat Cummins has hit the hard lengths and Mitchell Starc took some time before resuming his normal service—he unsettled Bairstow and Stokes in the crucial encounter. Also, the bowling machine Josh Hazlewood was pretty consistent in the corridor and bagged four crucial wickets in the first innings of the fourth Test that left England lagging behind throughout the match. He challenges the batsmen by getting marked sideways movement and nagging lines.
England team dearly wants to give their retiring coach, Trevor Bayliss, the next best farewell by leveling the series. Bayliss's four-year coaching stint, that boasts a World Cup win, will come to an end with The Oval Test.
After an insipid performance so far in the Ashes, England think-tank has dropped Jason Roy for the fifth Test. He has been found wanting in cricket's most strenuous format, averaging in single figures as an opener across the series. Roy swapped positions with Joe Denly at Old Trafford and yet he dragged to a mere 31-run stay at the crease that was halted by a ripper from Cummins that went through the gate. Skipper Root, while explaining white-ball successful opener's absence, said he will not play due to Stokes' shoulder injury, which meant the side required readjustment.
"It's always tough to leave guys out, but Stokesy obviously picked up a shoulder injury in the last game and won't be able to bowl the overs we normally expect him to," Root remarked.
"With that, we've had to change the balance of the side, and Jason's the unfortunate one to miss out," Root added.
"Jason's had an opportunity to come in and play Test cricket, get a feel for it and it's not quite gone how he would have liked.
"But I'm sure he'll go away and work extremely hard and come back again."
Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Mitch Marsh, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c & wk), Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood