England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford July 30, 2013

Australia in danger of creating history

At an iconic venue that has seen some remarkable feats, Australia could rewrite the record books this week but not how they would have liked

Old Trafford is not a place of cricketing miracles, for a miracle implies divine intervention. If Australia's plans for this week are based on divine intervention, they're in bigger trouble than anyone realised.

But Old Trafford is the venue of some extraordinary Ashes achievements, from Jim Laker's 19-wicket Test to Shane Warne's ball of the century, from Victor Trumper's hundred before lunch on the first day in 1902 to Ian Botham's tour de force in 1981. As Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath showed by clinging on in 2005, even its draws can astonish.

In short, strange things happen at Old Trafford. They might happen due to exceptional human talent and audacity, as in the case of Warne or Botham or Trumper. It might be the combination of circumstance and the seizing of an opportunity, as with Laker on a surface that was made for him. Or they may happen because of sheer bloody-mindedness and fight, as in the 2005 draw. The pitch might have rotated 90 degrees since then but Old Trafford still feels like a history-making venue.

Unfortunately for Australia, the history that appears most likely to be created over the next week is the equalling of a 125-year-old record, for not since 1888 have Australia lost seven consecutive Tests. The Lord's defeat was their sixth in a row, stretching back to Chennai in February, which was also the last Test in which an Australian scored a century. That their sequence of losses has coincided with such a triple-figure drought is no coincidence.

If rectifying their batting issues was a simple matter, Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann would have sorted things out already. Even against a modest attack at Hove, the Australian batsmen for the most part were unable to convert their encouraging starts into hundreds. To that end, David Warner has to play at Old Trafford, after mauling a South Africa A attack featuring Kyle Abbott and Marchant de Lange during an innings of 193 last week.

Australia do not have a Warne, nor a Botham, nor an artist like Trumper. But a fighting draw is of no use; they must find a match-winner somewhere in their squad. At 2-0 down, they must be prepared to take risks, and Warner could hardly be more of a risk-taker if his hobby was skydiving. The Australians need to push him out of the plane and see if his parachute opens. If it doesn't, they are no worse off for his crash landing than they are now. But if he gets it right, Warner will force the pressure back on England.

That is not to say the team as a whole should be reckless. The dry pitch already sported some bare patches two days before the Test, and a few cracks. It will spin as the match wears on, if not from the very start. Warner can be given licence but other batsmen must anchor the innings, Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke among them. They are the kind of men who naturally accumulate runs if they bat time; Clarke has done it at Test level and Rogers at length on the first-class scene.

Nathan Lyon found some loop and dip against Sussex and his experience at Test level means he must play in such an important match.

Should England include Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, the Australians could do worse than looking to Laker's match for some hints. The opener Colin McDonald top scored in both innings in that game. His second-innings 89 took five and a half hours. Of course, the conditions were extreme - McDonald described the pitch as like Bondi Beach in the first innings and a mud-heap in the second, after heavy rain - and Australia's batsmen need not replicate his scoring rate. But they can take note of his advice on handling challenging spin.

"It was necessary to apply all your concentration," McDonald said of batting in that Test. "My technique was based around two things. One was side-on play, and secondly, any ball that was pitched up you used your feet to get to. You had to largely play back against fairly prodigious offspin."

Use your feet when the ball is tossed up, play back to the quicker balls, concentrate intensely - it remains sound counsel. Whether Australia's current batsmen have the required techniques and patience is another issue. As is whether they have the spinners to exploit the turning conditions. Nathan Lyon has bowled well in the nets at Old Trafford and found some loop and dip as the Sussex game wore on, and his experience at Test level means he must play in such an important match.

At 19, Ashton Agar has immense potential, but he is still learning. Agar's batting at Trent Bridge was as memorable as some of Old Trafford's finest moments but he is primarily a bowler, and his work with the ball needs improvement. Even on a spinning pitch, the selectors should seriously consider Jackson Bird ahead of Agar, after Bird found swing and seam at Hove and hit such accurate lines that the pressure naturally built on the batsmen.

Whoever is chosen can create their own individual piece of Old Trafford Ashes history. Otherwise - and barring divine intervention - the Manchester Test of 2013 may go down in the annals as Australia's record-equalling seventh straight defeat. Either way, it will be worth watching.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Brenton on August 1, 2013, 8:46 GMT

    Our second 11 is currently batting like the first 11 so there aren't many other batting options except to develop what we have.

    Ponting didn't move up to number 3 and take on responsibility until he'd already played about 40 tests. Even Hayden was persisted with for a while before coming good.

    And all of this was in a winning team surrounded by experience.

  • Firdaus on August 1, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    Bird is a better option than Starc, especially in unfriendly conditions. Starc gets frustrated easily and starts to mess up his line and length. Australia need at least two bowlers with decent control over the new ball (Bird and Harris). Siddle acts as the back-up work horse. Lyon comes in for Agar, with Warner (who's coming in for Hughes) and Smith providing assistance. Final squad for the third test: Rogers, Watson, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Warner, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Lyon, Bird.

    @JAH123: I dunno about that, a coincidence is two events occurring at the same time that are NOT related to each other. The writer is implying that the lack of hundreds and the lack of wins are related.

  • parjanya on August 1, 2013, 1:49 GMT

    In all this brouhaha, we have forgotten the great steve waugh and his famous "mental disintegration"tactics. Get steve on that chartered plane as well.At least he can do his bit by sledging the poms, never mind the shellacking the aussies are getting. Truly, the saddest words are "it might have been". over to you steve.

  • Gagan on July 31, 2013, 23:52 GMT

    Written by a true Aussie! "But a fighting draw is of no use" ... only an Aussie could say this in this situation. Most others would take a draw at this time, at the very least to avoid making history. Aussies are down - they've lost their last 6 games, have been battered by media at home and away (and rightly so), and have also been battered by ex-players who can't fathom the quick and sharp decline from their lofty heights not so long ago. They have had attitude issues, and plenty of off-field drama to go with their on field misery. They need a pick me up, and a draw would feel like a victory. I'd gladly take a draw, but then again, I am not an Aussie!

  • Rod on July 31, 2013, 22:16 GMT

    I think the main problem Australia have is a lack of openers. Openers have to play straight, to be prepared to leave the ball alone when it is swinging away from them, to wear down the attack and take as few risks with the new ball as possible. I don't think Warner has the temperament to be a reliable opener and that's before we talk about his technique. Sure, he's an entertainer who will come off occasionally but that isn't what Australia require. Watson is technically and temperamentally unsuited to batting higher than 5 or 6. Hughes and Cowan could be openers but they need someone to sort our their heads as well as to improve technically. They are fairly young and they need to sign up for a county next season. Rogers and Katich are yesterday's men who can only provide temporary cover and will have to be hidden in the field. Funnily enough, I think that if Agar has a future at test level it is as an opener. He's got good technique, time against the quicks and doesn't gift his wicket.

  • Rod on July 31, 2013, 22:05 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK Katich is 38 in a few days time and boof has already said it won't happen. Australia are opening the batting with a journeyman who is 36 next month and a makeshift opener with a dodgy technique who is an increasingly part-time part time all-rounder, is 32, who actively dislikes his captain and has got one eye on his T20 pension. The weather is indifferent and how many times has it been said that Clarke isn't Bradman, Watson is no McCabe, Lyon is no O'Reilly and Australia have no-one who bowls like Fleetwood-Smith.

    @JIMDavis you are right, this series is gone but they need to prepare for the next. This series is meaningless anyway, because the winners of the next series get to keep the urn for three years. That means giving Lyon the test he needs, bring forward Bird and Wade and finding the next generation of openers. Of the younger generation of batsmen, I like the look of Cowan, Hughes and Khawaja the best although someone has to sort out Hughes in the head first.

  • Mashuq on July 31, 2013, 18:19 GMT

    The biggest problem with your suggestion @ZCF_Outkast on (July 31, 2013, 7:01 GMT) is that Watson can't bowl more than 10 overs in a day or he'll break down (no bad thing imo!). Agree @JimDavis on (July 31, 2013, 9:12 GMT) that the bigger picture needs to be borne in mind, but there are no saviours in this team, just survivors who can be retained for Ashes II. For that purpose Lyon needs to play 3 tests and so does Warner. Although he's a prospect, I'd prefer Smith not to play (due to injury) and let Watson bat at 6. Warner can open with Rogers. That way they can eventually eliminate all the proven failures such as Cowan (maybe not on this tour, but given his test record as a whole). Whoever survives plays Ashes II alongside genuine prospects (few, I know) who need to put their hands up such as Maddinson did today in Rustenberg (and previously in England). Hoping such prospects make a good start to Shield to give them confidence. Yes, these are desperate times as we know all too well.

  • David on July 31, 2013, 10:27 GMT

    Looks like Warner got out of SA at just the right time, after doing himself no end of good with an empty, but impressive sounding, 193. Australia A are 70 for7 at lunch, after 26 overs. I guess this pitch is not quite the road they played on last week, or Australian batting is back to business as usual. We'll see what the track is like when South Africa A bat, about 15 minutes after lunch at this rate. Mind you, Aus still have the 10th wicket partnership to rescue them!!

    Maddison, on 47 - SR 79.33, is the only batsman able to negotiate the bowling. Get him on a plane. Send a chartered jet. Send Warner back with it. Shaun Marsh reached double figures - 13. Then Mr. Extras, with 7, four ducks - officially a flock - a 1 & a 2 make up the rest of the scores. The A team could be playing in Eng - this week that is. Last week they were too good. Declaring after 500 would ruin the ashes. Bell would have to score a big triple for Eng to keep up.

    What interesting times in which we live!!!

  • Nick on July 31, 2013, 10:10 GMT

    I am all for Bird coming into the team, but that will raise a problem. A tail of Siddle, Bird, Harris and Lyon is hardly going to provide the lower order runs this team definitely needs.

    I know bowlers should be picked to bowl and so on, and ordinarily I would agree, but tail runs are vital for this team to be competitive. For me, if Bird plays, Lyon can't. It will have to be Agar.

    But I don't like Agar in the team as he's not yet ready and a poor performance could affect his confidence at test level moving forward. So that is a no-no.

    The other option is to take a bigger risk and pick Faulkner, Bird, Harris and Siddle, and aim to get about 15 overs of spin a day out of Warner & Smith. Not ideal, but Faulkner could provide some really handy runs down the order and provide a good left arm bowling option. I also think Smith has immense potential as a leggie - more so than as a batsman. That would be a tough call on Lyon although he didn't do well against Sussex.

  • stuart on July 31, 2013, 9:43 GMT

    i personally hope England continue to dominate.This is a chance to do some damage to this team to soften them up for the winter tour. My only concern is that England will take their foot of the throat.England need to learn to destroy teams so that the next time they play South Africa they don't implode like last year