Afternoon everyone and welcome to yet another international series, England’s sixth and last of this peculiar summer. So far, they’ve won four (both Test series, ODIs v Ireland, T20 v Australia) and drawn one (T20s v Pakistan). Is it time for them to lose?
The Aussies, after winning the final T20 match, go to Manchester with a modicum of momentum. They may pick all three of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins – a trident if ever there was one. And their ropey middle order will be suddenly steelier for the arrival of Marnus Labuschagne, who sounds like something out of Harry Potter and makes runs like a machine. He only won his first baggy yellow cap this year, but already has 300 runs at an average of 50, and has made it to 40 every time he’s got off the mark.
England’s recent record in this format against Australia is phenomenal, with 11 wins in the last 13. But one of the two defeats came last year, when the Aussies won the World Cup group match at Lord’s before losing the semi-final at Edgbaston. And on Tuesday, when they were under pressure after not making many runs, England’s fielding fell apart.
That said, they have reinforcements too. Back comes Jos Buttler, in the form of his life. Back, probably, comes Eoin Morgan, the white-ball Brearley – nobody will dare be butter-fingered in the face of his icy glare. And there’s Joe Root, to bring calm and fluency to the top order: if he’d been there the other night, England might well have won.
Chris Woakes returns to show that, even in the mayhem of the Powerplay, a bowler can be a model of consistency. He makes a better foil to Jofra Archer than Mark Wood, whose role now reverts to making sparks fly in the middle overs. And England should have Jason Roy back from injury, though that could go either way. Will he be the guy who eats Aussie white-ball bowlers for supper (17 games, three hundreds, average 49, strike rate 115), or the guy who can’t buy a run since lockdown, with scores of 0, 24, 0, 1, 4 and 14?
The pitch is expected to be a slow turner – the north of England with a strong whiff of south Asia. That should suit Adil Rashid, whose googly is making grown men and women go weak at the knees. This week Rashid became the first man to dismiss Steve Smith twice in T20 internationals, when he was already the only one to have dismissed him five times in ODIs. Smith, by the way, has failed to reach fifty in nine innings (for Cummins’ XI as well as Australia) since the beginning of March, which surely means that a big hundred is imminent.
It’s all looking very tasty. Play starts at 1pm, and the weather should be dry enough, if not exactly warm. I’ll be back just after 12.30 with the toss and the teams.