The Ashes, despite Australia holding a 1-0 lead, is beautifully poised ahead of the Third Test. Headingley is the theatre for the third instalment of this thrilling series, and it is one of two Ashes 2019 venues that didn’t host a Test in the 2015 series.
England couldn’t force a victory on the fifth and final day of a rain-interrupted Lord’s Test, but the hosts managed to spin the series after disappointment at Fortress Edgbaston.
Australia were put under pressure in the final session. England not only had Jofra Archer firing on all cylinders, they also saw some batsmen find form and got some tidy overs from Somerset spinner Jack Leach – a marked improvement from Moeen Ali in Birmingham.
The stage is set for another fascinating Test at Headingley. The door is ajar for an England comeback with Steve Smith out. Here are five things to look out for…
There was nowhere else to start, was there?
Archer changed the whole tone of this Ashes series at Lord’s just a few weeks after his Super Over heroics in the World Cup final on the same ground.
Hitting Smith caught the most attention, such was the intensity of their duel, but Archer impressed not just with his raw pace and unreadable bouncer, but his control and movement off the surface.
Marnus Labuschagne was welcomed to the Ashes series by another Archer bumper, getting rattled on the grille.
David Warner and Usman Khawaja nicked off at the start of the second innings. Tim Paine was given a serious going over. Archer troubled every Australian he faced.
The pressure on Archer to repeat his Lord’s heroics at Headingley is immense – that’s unlikely to be much of an issue, however. With back-to-back Tests and long spells at Lord’s, though, this will be a physical challenge for Archer.
How Joe Root uses the Sussex quick will be crucial to the outcome of the third Test...
David Warner’s scores in the 2019 Ashes: 2, 8, 3, 5. That isn’t good by anyone’s standards. By the level Warner has played at (he averages nearly 47 in Tests), that is a serious slump.
As he prepares for Headingley, there’s yet more pressure on Australia’s second-best batsman in Smith’s absence.
Warner is not only Australia’s most senior player with Smith out the side, he was meant to be Smith’s second-in-command in a batting line-up with plenty of question marks. Australia need something from Warner at Leeds.
Stuart Broad made Warner his bunny in the first three innings, troubling him on both sides of the bat. Then, having dodged Broad, Warner fell to Archer in the second knock at Lord’s.
Expect to see the feisty left-hander come out aggressively in the first innings. England will fancy their chances if they can extend this slump.
Taking On Lyon
After taking nine wickets at Edgbaston, and keeping the run rate down, Lyon struggled at Lord’s. He still took three first innings wickets, and was unlucky with some sloppy catching, but England’s approach clearly changed.
Rory Burns was more proactive, cutting Lyon whenever he dropped short and/or wide.
Jonny Bairstow played shots and Ben Stokes – after surviving some outside edges – took the game to him as England accelerated on Sunday. England need to maintain that attacking approach in Leeds.
Ticking the score over against Lyon not only keeps the catchers away from the bat, it also challenges Tim Paine’s captaincy. It forces the quicks to come back for more spells and puts Lyon under pressure, which he didn’t face in the First Test.
England's Middle Order
Ben Stokes was bumped up to five in England’s second innings and delivered a Man of the Match hundred. Stokes set up one of the best Lord’s Ashes Test matches, aided by fellow World Cup final hero Jos Buttler.
Putting Stokes above Buttler was a popular decision, and England will surely stick with it after Stokes’ magnificent knock.
Then there’s Jonny Bairstow. Despite playing fluently in the World Cup, Bairstow’s red-ball form has been poor over the last few Test series. He looked to play himself into a bit of nick in the first innings at Lord’s, and helped Stokes set up a declaration on the fifth day.
There’s a strong argument that Bairstow should slot above Buttler, too, allowing Buttler to play freely from seven. Unfortunately that is unlikely while Bairstow has the gloves.
Bairstow is 17/20 in 888sport’s cricket betting to score over 30.5 runs in the first innings at Headingley.
While the top order has been poor for years, England’s engine room has been their real strength. If Stokes, Buttler and Bairstow can deliver in Leeds, they are well-placed for to level the series.
We are yet to see the best of Joe Root in this Ashes series.
His 57 and 28 at Edgbaston were not his most elegant innings, and while he played some of this glorious cover drives in the first knock at Lord’s, a combined 14 runs over the two innings goes down as one of his worst Test matches in an England shirt.
With Smith unavailable, Root is the best batsman in this Test. On his home ground too, this is as good an opportunity as Root will get to take control of this series.
The three versus four debate continues to rumble on – it seems silly he’s so often getting exposed to the brand new ball – but with him set to bat three for the rest of this series at least, that’s no more than a distraction.
Barring a shock opening partnership, or Joe Denly finding his feet at Test match level, England need a captain’s knock from their skipper and best player.
England’s attacking middle order is at its most dangerous when they can attack – a Root century would be the perfect way to set the platform for Stokes, Buttler and Bairstow.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Alastair Grant / AP Photo*