Last chance for bedraggled Australia
Match factsAugust 1-5, Old Trafford
Start time 1100 (1000 GMT)
Big PictureOver 16 years of discontent between 1989 and 2005, England found themselves 2-0 down after as many Ashes matches no fewer than six times. The lead-in to the third Test was invariably accompanied by all manner of introspection within the team and public ridicule without, while selections tended to lean towards changing the combinations that did not work in the first two matches, carrying the air of last-chance for the selectors and the captain if not the players themselves. Something else about those six occasions is also noteworthy - while often England produced an improved display, not once did they ever actually win the third match, usually giving up the urn as a result.
This unpalatable scenario is now Australia's cross to bear, following a tight result at Trent Bridge and a decidedly loose one at Lord's. There will be changes to the team, most likely three as David Warner returns after doing penance in South Africa while bowlers Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc are recalled having not done too much wrong to be dropped in the first place. Of greater import for Australia, however, is getting the best out of the few batsmen they know to be of high quality. Michael Clarke has batted away speculation that he has entered the last six months of his international career but has so far been unable to do likewise to England's bowlers, while Shane Watson's threatening starts have remained just that from the moment James Anderson and co have managed to narrow their aim onto his front pad. Chris Rogers must lift too, having been called into the team late in his career simply to churn out hundreds - nothing more and nothing less.
As for England, a draw will be sufficient to retain the Ashes, but Anderson's words last week provided ample evidence that the hosts are seeking something grander, a 5-0 margin of victory to be precise. Kevin Pietersen's fitness has been a source of minor irritation to England's planning, but in James Taylor they have a reserve batsman capable of playing the long innings that will further wear down an Australian bowling attack that has toiled manfully against the creeping realisation that no matter what they bowl their opponents out for, it will not be enough. Nevertheless, England cannot expect to be continually bailed out by Ian Bell following the loss of trios of early wickets, and so Alastair Cook will be particularly keen to score the runs that ensure the proceedings at Old Trafford carry on in the same lopsided manner in which they did at Lord's.
Form guideEngland: WWWWD
Players to watchRight now it feels strange and distant to consider that for years Graeme Swann considered Australia to be his toughest opponents. The impression was created by some indifferent days against the likes of Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke in 2009 and 2010-11, but the former's retirement has given Swann some greater room to flourish against batsmen with very little confidence against the spinning ball. Now, at Old Trafford, the scene of Jim Laker's 19 wickets in 1956, Swann's threat looms larger than ever for the tourists.
Rather than playing against Sussex, Shane Watson spent a week in London, training specifically to work on his susceptibility against the ball angling back into his pads for an lbw shout. As his opening partner Chris Rogers stated, Watson has the potential to do more damage to England's bowlers than any other member of the Australian batting line-up, and if he has managed to smooth out this long-standing technical kink he may find Manchester very much to his liking.
Team newsKevin Pietersen has not quite assuaged all doubts about his fitness, following a calf strain, by training in Manchester, and if he is not deemed ready James Taylor will slot into the batting order. Monty Panesar is on hand with his left-arm spin, but Tim Bresnan's strong showing on a dry surface at Lord's plus his extra batting heft make a change less likely.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Joe Root, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson
David Warner appears a likely inclusion for Australia following his century for Australia A in South Africa, but the question is for who and where in the batting order. Phillip Hughes is under some pressure following a trio of low scores after his 81* in Nottingham, and Steve Smith is nursing a sore back. Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon are probable bowling inclusions for the injured James Pattinson and Ashton Agar.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Chris Rogers, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Steve Smith, 6 David Warner, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Nathan Lyon.
Pitch and conditionsThe tourists have been greeted by another very dry surface that already shows evidence of cracking, alongside a few curious "burnt" patches. It is quite hard underfoot however, so there will be some bounce on offer to shotmakers and pace bowlers alike. Intermittent rain is forecast for the week.
Stats and trivia
- Don Bradman's 1936-37 Australian side are the only team ever to have overcome a 2-0 deficit after as many Tests to win the Ashes
- An Australia defeat will hand the tourists seven consecutive Test match losses for the first time since 1888
- Stuart Broad needs one more wicket to become the 15th England bowler to claim 200 in their Test career
Quotes"As soon as you become distracted you can come unstuck. Yes, we've earned the right to be in a pretty good situation in the series. But the series is still alive."
Alastair Cook stays on his toes despite a 2-0 lead
"I was part of the team that won 16 in a row, so I guess I'm seeing both sides. The reality is you want to win every time you walk out onto the field. But you have to perform at your best to do that. If we don't and we lose this Test match, we'll hold a record that I certainly won't be proud of and I don't think anyone in the current team will be proud of."
Michael Clarke peers over the precipice of seven consecutive Test defeats
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here