Australia head into the fourth Test at Old Trafford starting on Wednesday hoping Steve Smith and the boxer Muhammad Ali can revive their campaign following the hurt they felt at having the Ashes “stolen” from them by England.
The tourists were on the brink of retaining the Ashes only for Ben Stokes’s superb 135 not out delivered England a stunning one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley. Stokes’s heroics have left the five-match series poised at 1-1 with two to play. Australia coach Justin Langer said his Ashes-holders would now take heart from an incident in Ali’s childhood.
“He got his bike stolen and that was the fire he needed to become the greatest boxer of all time,” said Langer. “We felt a bit like we got the Ashes stolen the other day. They won that Test match, so we felt a bit like it had been stolen from us. “Now we have got to work out what we are going to do, and use that as fire.
“We are not going to feel sorry for ourselves and let it slip,” added Langer, aiming to oversee Australia’s first Ashes series win in England for 18 years. Australia will make at least one change, with star batsman Smith returning from the concussion he suffered after being hit by a 92mph Jofra Archer bouncer that ruled him out of the third Test.
Smith, in his first Test series since completing a 12-month ball-tampering ban, scored 144 and 142 in Australia’s 251-run win in the opener at Edgbaston before making 92 in the drawn second Test at Lord’s.
Marnus Labuschagne, Smith’s concussion substitute at Lord’s, has made three successive Test fifties since his unexpected promotion into the side and retains his place with Usman Khawaja being dropped to make way for Smith’s return. Khawaja has averaged just 20.33 in six innings in the series batting at number three.
Fast bowler Mitchell Starc will hope to be selected for his first Test of this Ashes on what is set to be the quickest pitch of the series—a surface that should also suit Nathan Lyon as the off-spinner tries to recover from fumbling what would have been a match-winning run out in Leeds.
Langer, hit several times on the head during his career as an Australia opening batsman, was confident Smith could overcome any doubts he may have felt after being felled by Archer.
“When you get hit, it’s always a little voice on your shoulder. You’ve got to have a good strategy and he works the game out better than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” said Langer.
“If anyone’s going to get over any little demons, it’ll be Steven.” Meanwhile England paceman Stuart Broad, the hosts’ leading bowler this series with 14 wickets at 25.35, was eager to see Smith face Archer again.
“I’m sure when Steve comes in Jofra will be in (England captain) Joe Root’s ear wanting the ball,” Broad said. “I might be stood at mid-on but I’ll be excited when Jofra asks for that ball.”
England could field the same XI that played at Headingley after James Anderson, their all-time leading wicket-taker, was ruled out of the last two Tests with the calf injury that means his four overs in the first innings at Edgbaston will be the only ones he bowls this series.
England have made one change to their squad for the fourth Test, with fast bowler Craig Overton replacing the dropped Chris Woakes. Somerset quick Overton was only drafted into the squad after it was confirmed Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, was ruled out with a calf injury.
Rather than change top-order personnel, England’s response to being dismissed for just 67 in their first innings at Headingley has been to have World Cup-winner Jason Roy, struggling as a Test opener, and number four Joe Denly swap positions. Denly, however, has made just one first-class century as an opener in the last eight years.