The Ashes Third Test Preview and Prediction

Joe Root training ahead of the The Ashes Third Test.

If England’s Ashes campaign took a hit after their heavy defeat at the Gabba in Brisbane, they suffered a body blow in Adelaide. The day-night test with the pink ball was pinned as their best chance of getting on the board in Australia, but they were well-beaten at the Adelaide Oval. Now they face the daunting prospect of needing to win in front of an expected 70,000 crowd at the MCG. As ever, we here at LWOC will be offering our preview and prediction, but who will come out on top?

The Ashes Third Test Preview and Prediction

Recent Form

England have had a busy, but not particularly successful year in test cricket. They started 2021 in Sri Lanka, where they won fairly comfortably in large part thanks to Joe Root. But he couldn’t save them in India, despite scoring a double-century in the first match in Chennai, as the English batting line-up were ruthlessly exposed by the Indian spinners on turning tracks in a 3-1 series loss. England’s struggles were further emphasised by a 1-0 defeat on home turf at the hands of New Zealand.

They were next in action against India, who demonstrated that their superiority extended to English conditions, although the series was brought to an early end by a covid-scare in the Indian camp with the tourists leading 2-1. That was the last red-ball cricket England played before their disastrous start to this Ashes series which has seen them lose by over 200 runs in both Brisbane and Adelaide, failing to score a century with the bat or take five with the ball.

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Australia, despite some off the field issues, have looked rather more assured as they seek to bounce back from the considerable disappointment of their 2-1 defeat at home to India last year in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. In truth, England’s efforts have been so anaemic so far that one suspects beating their old enemy has brought less satisfaction than might be expected. But Australia will surely draw real confidence from how well they handled the absence of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

Likely Line-ups

After their performance in the first two tests, it seems likely that England will make some changes to their team. Zak Crawley is expected to return to the team, despite averaging just 11 this year, almost certainly at the expense of either Rory Burns or Haseeb Hameed at the top of the order. Neither has looked comfortable against the Australian attack and there is some hope that Crawley, who enjoys fast bouncy pitches, will be more successful. Johnny Bairstow may well also replace the struggling Ollie Pope. Jos Buttler’s long fourth-innings vigil has probably saved his place in the team, however.

England’s bowling was also criticised for being samey and not full enough in Adelaide so expect changes in that department too. Mark Wood, by far England’s quickest bowler and the only real point of difference will return, quite possibly at the expense of Chris Woakes, despite the runs he offers at number eight. Jack Leach could return too, though his confidence may be low after the mauling he suffered in Brisbane. If he does, expect either Stuart Broad or James Anderson to miss out.

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For Australia, the headline news is that Cummins will be back in the side. He bowled as well as ever in Brisbane, taking seven wickets including a five-fer in the first innings, and he will surely be relishing the chance to get stuck in to this fragile English batting line-up. The match may come too soon for Hazlewood, who is still struggling with a side strain, but Mitchell Starc is expected to play. That leaves one spot for Richardson or Neser, with Scott Boland, something of an MCG specialist, also in the frame.

The only real concern so far amongst the Australian batters has been Marcus Harris, who has passed 20 just once so far in four innings. But Australian coach Justin Langer has confirmed that he will play and Harris will at least be on familiar ground at the MCG. David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne and Smith remain the vital cogs, but Travis Head has also made a fine start to the series. All four men will surely be feeling good about their games, with Smith and Warner having extra-motivation having both fallen in the 90s (Warner twice).

Prediction

Unfortunately for England, there just doesn’t seem to be any realistic cause for optimism heading into this third and potentially decisive test. They did manage a draw in Melbourne last time they toured Australia, the only match in which they’ve avoided defeat Down Under since 2011, but that match was played on an exceptionally flat pitch and they Alastair Cook in their side to take advantage of it. He duly obliged, scoring 244 not out, but it is hard to see Crawley, Burns or Hameed emulating that.

Nor is the pitch likely to be as docile as it was four years ago and England have so far struggled even in good batting conditions. It will be particularly concerning how badly they folded against an Australian attack shorn of its two leading lights in Cummins and Hazlewood, with Root again having to shoulder the majority of the burden. Stranger things have happened, but not many. In the end, Australia once again look stronger with both bat and ball. Expect a comfortable win for the hosts.

Prediction: Australia win.

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