Ashes 2023: Three Highlights from England’s Old Trafford Test Squad

The Headingley Test has kept England alive in the Ashes 2023, but they must keep their winning momentum going at Old Trafford to make sure the final Test at the Oval will be more than just a ceremonial affair.

Ashes England Squad
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Old Trafford, historically an unlucky ground for the home side in the Ashes, holds a daunting challenge for England. Since 1981, they have failed to secure a victory against Australia at this venue. To keep their hopes alive and take the fight to the final Test, Ben Stokes and his team must break this hoodoo and triumph at Old Trafford.

England has already announced their squad for the do-or-die affair. Here are the biggest talking points from England’s Old Trafford Test squad.

James Anderson Returns To The Starting XI

After sitting out the action in Leeds, James Anderson returns to the England first XI. Ollie Robinson will make way for him after struggling with a back injury during the Headingley Test. The right-arm seamer could bowl only 11.2 overs in the first innings and did not pick up the bowl at all in the second one.

With his 41st birthday just around the corner and on the verge of capturing 700 Test wickets, Anderson’s name is destined to be etched among the cricketing elite as one of the all-time greats to have bowled the red leather.

Despite approaching the twilight of his illustrious career, Anderson’s remarkable bowling skills continue to rank him among the finest in the sport. While time may have reduced his pace, he has effectively compensated for it by adding new weapons to his arsenal.

Anderson, however, has had little to no impact in the first two Tests of the series. England’s Bazball strategy has placed a considerable burden on their aging bowling unit, with Anderson seemingly shouldering the most significant impact. The dry and sluggish pitches at Edgbaston and Lords have significantly hindered his effectiveness, leading to a modest tally of only three wickets in the first two Tests.

Can Anderson Overcome Pitch Challenges?

With utmost honesty, the seasoned pacer acknowledged that the Edgbaston pitch in the Ashes opener proved to be his “kryptonite”. He expressed genuine concerns that he would not be able to have any impact in the next four Tests if the pitch conditions don’t change.

Can Anderson anticipate a reversal of fortunes at Old Trafford, a ground where an end is named after him? The Old Trafford pitch has traditionally favoured the batting side, but the pitch is expected to crack up as the match progresses, which could be advantageous to someone like Anderson who is an expert in swinging the ball. The weather conditions, with forecasts of rain in the area for the next few days, might also help Anderson and his fellow English pacers.

James Anderson has an excellent record at Old Trafford, having claimed 37 scalps in his previous 10 Test appearances with an average of 22.03.

Regardless of his performances thus far in the series, Anderson has proven to be a valuable asset to the leadership duo of Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum. Since the start of summer 2022, he has amassed an impressive tally of 48 wickets in 12 appearances, boasting an average of 21.22. The Lancashire legend, therefore, can be instrumental in bringing England their first Ashes win at Old Trafford in 42 years.

Jonny Bairstow Keeps His Place

Despite mounting discussions about replacing him with Ben Foakes, the England and Wales Cricket Board selection committee has opted to retain under-fire wicketkeeper-batter Jonny Bairstow. As expected, the decision has triggered a wave of negative reactions on social media platforms.

Jonny Bairstow’s performance as a wicketkeeper, in particular, has faced escalating scrutiny lately. Concerns have deepened after he dropped three catches in the thrilling three-wicket victory against Australia at Headingley, raising doubts about whether the dual role is too demanding given his recent leg injury.

With the series standing at a 2-1 deficit and two Tests remaining, Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have opted to focus on building Bairstow’s confidence rather than calling up Surrey’s Ben Foakes.

The management considers Bairstow to be the ideal number seven batsman for the team. Foakes is also a skilled batsman, but he is better suited to batting higher up in the order. Bairstow, on the other hand, has demonstrated more versatility with the bat and aligns better with England’s Bazball strategy. The 33-year-old, however, has failed to impress with the bat as well since his Edgbaston Test first innings knock of 78 out of 78 balls.

Moeen Ali To Retain His Number 3 Batting Position

It has been confirmed that Moeen Ali will keep batting at No.3. The Headingley crowd was shocked to see Ali stepping into the greens after Ben Duckett got dismissed in the second innings. It did not turn out to be an effective move as Mitchell Starc sent him back to the pavilion with only five runs to his name. The all-rounder, however, is set to come out to bat at No. 3 once again for England.

In county-level first-class cricket, Moeen Ali has predominantly batted at No. 3, but his position in England’s batting order has been more fluid.

Why does the England management consider Moeen Ali as an ideal choice for the No. 3 position all of a sudden? Previously, Ollie Pope had been their preferred batsman for that spot. When Pope suffered a shoulder dislocation, however, it left a gap in that position. Rather than bringing in a specialist batsman as a replacement, England decided to bolster their bowling attack by selecting all-rounder Chris Woakes.

Initially, the plan was for Brooks to move up from No.5 to No.3. In the first innings of the Headingley Test, Moeen Ali batted at No.7 and Woakes came out right after him. Brooks, however, has been struggling against Pat Cummins. As a response, the management decided to make adjustments by promoting Moeen and returning Brooks to his more accustomed batting position.

Opting for Moeen at No. 3 enables England to return to a batting line-up resembling the one used in the first two Tests. This arrangement entails Joe Root at No. 4, Brook at No. 5, Ben Stokes at No. 6, and Jonny Bairstow at No. 7.

During his commentary on Sky Sports, Nasser Hussain presented an interesting perspective regarding Moeen Ali’s vulnerability to short-pitched deliveries, suggesting that it could actually benefit England. Hussain, a former England captain, believes that the onslaught of bouncers directed at Ali will make the new ball wear out faster, and make it easier for the rest of the English batters to navigate their innings.

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