Just a few days ago, England looked like they would fail to win the series and regain the Wisden Trophy. Now, you’d have to say they must be considered clear favourites to overcome their loss in the first Test and come out victorious again at Old Trafford.
The key difference between the two teams in this game is their bowling attacks. England have a choice from six pace bowlers for three available slots, assuming Stokes and Bess both play. None of the six have played in back-to-back Tests in this series and so should be fit and raring to go. If anything, there is too much choice for the England camp. Woakes and Broad both bowled superbly in the last game, and so it would be incredibly harsh to leave either of them out, but selecting both would mean only picking one of Anderson (at his home ground) and Archer. The suggestion has been floated that England might forgo playing with a specialist spinner altogether, instead opting for an all-pace attack with Root as a stand-in spin option. I personally can’t see it happening, but it would certainly be interesting to watch.
For what it’s worth, I would pick Archer, Bess, Broad, Stokes and Woakes for this Test, from the announced matchday squad. Broad and Woakes demonstrated their ability in Mancunian conditions last week, taking 11 wickets at a combined average of 16.73. Archer and Stokes are, for me, the most challenging two English bowlers with the older ball. That would mean leaving out Jimmy Anderson (587 career Test wickets, has a stand at Old Trafford named after him), Sam Curran (Makes Things Happen™) and Mark Wood (By far the least effective England bowler so far in this series).
England’s batting lineup will continue unchanged from the second Test. This is unsurprising, as they have been very effective so far in 2020. Their top six of Sibley, Crawley, Stokes, Pope and at least two of Root, Burns and Denly have combined to lead England to innings totals over 400 four times in the last eight Tests, plus 391/8 declared in Cape Town. To put this achievement into context: From the 2017/18 Ashes to the 2019 Ashes, in twenty-six Test matches, England managed to reach 400 runs only three times.
For the tourists, the picture is somewhat less rosy. Having chosen to play an unchanged side in the second Test, the West Indies must now either pick a bowling attack which must feel dead on their feet or select their less experienced or skillful backup bowlers. As for their batting, opener John Campbell and scourge of Headingley Shai Hope have failed to impress so far in this series with averages below twenty.
All of which is to say that I think the West Indies have a mountain to climb in this game. That said, England have shown themselves fully capable of shooting themselves in the foot in the past and it would be a fool to underestimate (or call mediocre) any Test team who faces them. The previous two Tests have developed into last-day thrillers, and it would be wonderful if tomorrow’s game completes that set, whoever wins.
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