Win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win… Not the start of a hastily penned poem, but England’s results in their past seven Test matches.
Following a 405-run stuffing at Lord’s, England’s selectors refrained from any major amendments, instead tweaking the batting line-up by replacing the out-of-sorts Gary Ballance with his very in-form Yorkshire colleague Johnny Bairstow, and promoting Ian Bell and Joe Root one place in the order.
One enforced change meant that the weary Mark Wood was rested, with Steven Finn given the latest opportunity of his frustratingly sporadic international career.
The latter proved to be the catalyst for a three-day victory, with a second innings Test best bowling analysis of 6-79 ensuring that the home side only had to chase 121 to regain the lead in this intriguing, albeit error-strewn, series.
Equally uplifting were the return to form of Ian Bell on his home patch, Moeen’s continued consistency and Jimmy Anderson’s mesmeric first innings spell that resulted in an Ashes best-bowling return of 6-47, although a side strain rules him out of the fourth Test, meaning that England will turn to Stuart Broad to lead the attack.
Other than the injury to Anderson, the continued malaise of Adam Lyth becomes increasingly prevalent with each meek dismissal, and Jos Buttler could use a knock of substance to accompany his pristine glove-work.
England third Test ratings
Alastair Cook (Captain)
34 & 7
Batted with sublime precision until unfortunately lodging a lusty pull-shot straight into the ample bread-basket of a cowering Adam Voges for one of the more peculiar dismissals of his career.
Smartly rotated his attack, using Finn in brief bursts and setting attacking fields that proved too tempting for most of the Australian batsmen. Another failure in the second innings was outweighed by the aura of Cook’s newly found comfort in the lead role.
6/10 (Batting: 4/10, Captaincy: 8/10)
10 & 12
Two more failures for a player who is threatening to earn the “passenger” tag if he doesn’t step up at Trent Bridge next week.
A worrying trend of collapsing towards leg-stump continues to undermine a player with the capacity to fill a role that has been an English weakness since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012. Will have to produce soon with Alex Hales waiting patiently in the wings.
53 & 65*
Edgbaston Test was widely reported as a last chance saloon for Bell, whose rotten sequence of scores had placed him under the spotlight, with a gaggle of younger players touted as replacements.
Thankfully the veteran excelled during cap number 113, providing the glue in both innings, to eventually see England over the line on day three in front of his home crowd. Looked instantly at ease occupying the tricky slot at number three.
63 & 38*/ 0-7
Another whose promotion was a success, Root is England’s go-to player these days, and the Vice-Captain once again stepped up on a tricky surface with two more valuable contributions.
Plays with the freedom of an unburdened soul who relishes the heat of battle, as he continues to torment bowlers from all over the globe with his aesthetically alluring displays – none of whom have yet found a reliable solution.
5 & DNB
25 year-old’s recall arrived courtesy of majestic county form, where he’s been averaging more than 100 for Yorkshire this season, and can’t really be judged on this brief appearance.
A rip-snorter of a Mitchell Johnson bouncer did for the raven-haired middle order man, who had to be in good form just to nick it! Likely to be retained for the foreseeable future.
0 & DNB/ 1-28
Like Bairstow, Stokes received a brutal Johnson half-tracker that almost took his head off, so it’s difficult to be critical of that dismissal (it wasn’t like, say, jumping over the ball and being run-out!)
Only bowled 11 overs due to the excellence of the rest of England’s seam attack, but was on point and tidy throughout a prolonged spell that covered for Anderson’s absence on the third day.
4/10 (Batting: 1/10, Bowling: 7/10)
Jos Buttler (wicket-keeper)
9 & DNB
Took a couple of spectacular pouches behind the timbers, as his ‘keeping continues to excel in tricky circumstances.
That is fortunate in light of yet more uncertainty at the crease. A scratchy 38-ball knock of 9 can be partially justified by overcast conditions and a spicy track, but the cold hard facts are that Buttler has yet to contribute more than 27 in his five Ashes innings.
5/10 (Batting: 2/10, Wicket-Keeping: 8/10)
58 & 1-64
Time and again Moeen has frustrated his Aussie counterparts with quick-fire runs among the lower order, with some saying that his improvement against the short ball validates him as the best option to open alongside Cook.
His half-century propelled England’s lead from a reasonable 54 to a daunting 145, and he took the vital wicket of Mitchell Starc, who had threatened to make a match of it with a tail-end 50 of his own.
7/10 (Batting: 8/10, Bowling: 6/10)
31 & DNB /2-44 & 1-61
It’s a joy to see Broad batting well again, those handy contributions down the order had been sorely missed since breaking his nose in the summer of 2014, when India’s Varun Aaron squeezed a short ball betwixt helmet and grill.
As well as a responsibly compiled 31, Broad was the lesser of the trio of bowlers who tormented Australia in their first innings, and chipped in with another wicket second time round, although he’ll probably need to bowl even better in the absence of Anderson next week.
7/10 (Batting: 7/10, Bowling: 7/10)
0* & DNB/ 2-38 & 6-79
What a recall! Finn could barely have wished for a more productive return to the Test fold. From the embryonic deliveries of an imposing first day burst, it was clear that the 6 foot 7 inch fast-bowler barely resembled the crest-fallen trundler who was sent home early from the 2013-14 series “down under”.
Then One-Day coach Ashley Giles had described him as “unselectable”, after this display he may be indispensable. At 26 years old the hope is that he has finally come of age, six years after he initially burst onto the international scene.
3 & DNB/ 6-47 & 1-15
Back to his very best, Anderson had the ball swinging both ways at close to 90mph, perplexing all of the Australian batsmen who became unsure whether to play or leave, resulting in the demise of half a dozen by the second morning.
The crowd relished this skilful exhibition from the king of swing, who also celebrated his 33rd birthday on day two of the match. The only downside was a side-strain that rules him out of the reckoning for Trent Bridge, although it’s hoped that he’ll recover in time for the climax at the Oval.
That’s more like it! England and Australia resume hostilities at Trent Bridge next week, but will we actually witness a match that makes it into the fifth day? As usual Kureen will be keeping an eye on the action!