England's inconsistency keeps Ashes uncertain
August 6-10, 2015
Start time 11am local (1000GMT)
England thrust aside Australia in less than three days at Edgbaston to go 2-1 up in the Investec series, but for all that there is no widespread conviction that they are about to settle the job at Trent Bridge. Almost counter-intuitively, it is Australia who are more fancied to bounce back, which would be in keeping with a series of great unpredictability.
England's win in Birmingham came at a heavy cost - an injury to the leader of their attack James Anderson which prevents him from playing at a venue where he has taken 53 wickets in eight Tests at 19.24. Instead, he will be offering advice from the dressing room to an attack which will be led, on is home ground, by Stuart Broad. Much responsibility rests with Broad who will be playing only his fifth Test without Anderson in the side. The identity of his new-ball partner remains to be seen, with both Steven Finn and Mark Wood having different attributes.
That presents Australia with an opportunity to find some batting form in a series when, their top three apart, they have batted dismally. Much focus is on Michael Clarke, who has been increasingly feisty in the build-up, but who has struggled against Stuart Broad, in particular, throughout the series. Alastair Cook, his opposiute number, has also had a lean time with the bat - but England are ahead in the series and so after two tough years he is judged to be on the verge of redemption.
There remains the feeling that both sides are often on the brink of a batting collapse, although the depth of England's order - with Moeen Ali at No. 8 - could yet be a deciding factor. Last year the Trent Bridge Test against India was a bore draw, and resulted in a 'poor' rating for the surface, but it would be no surprise if this encounter more mirrored what happened in 2013 when wickets fell steadily throughout. And while it would not be good for the nerves, either side would happily take another nail-biting win.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Shaun Marsh has a strong claim for an opportunity in an Australian batting line-up that has looked flimsy as soon as the second wicket has fallen. Perhaps only his inexperience in English conditions counted against him at the start of the series, but he has made hundreds in tour games against Kent and Derbyshire. Repelling a Test attack in swinging conditions at Trent Bridge would be a different challenge.
Pitching an opening batsman into Test cricket in an Ashes series is a big ask and Adam Lyth has struggled in his first three Tests on home soil to justify England's faith. He seems to have reverted to the chancy style outside off stump that was apparent in his early Yorkshire seasons. A result perhaps of a rise in quality or an over-eagerness to buy into England's commitment to attacking cricket. A more methodical approach is needed.
Wood's fitness record suggested from the outset that he is not designed for a world of back-to-back Tests, but his problematic ankle has come through training sessions successfully and, barring a last-minute deterioration, he will play. Liam Plunkett and the uncapped left-arm quick Mark Footitt are on standby.
England (probable) 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Adam Lyth, 3 Ian Bell, 4 Joe Root, 5 Jonny Bairstow, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Moeen Ali, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Steven Finn
Such has been the weakness of Australia's middle order that a switch to six specialist batsmen, with Shaun Marsh replacing his brother Mitchell, is one option that could be considered. Alternatively, he could replace Adam Voges, enabling Western Australia's brothers to team up in Tests for only the second time.
Australia (probable) 1 David Warner, 2 Chris Rogers, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Shaun Marsh, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Peter Nevill (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon
Pitch and conditions
Alastair Cook has predicted "another Edgbaston" and if so it will continue the transformation from the attritional pitches of recent vintage. Trent Bridge dare not risk a boring surface, having been marked "poor" a year ago by the ICC for a slow, low surface for a Test against India in which only 29 wickets fell. The weather is also unsettled enough to fill both bowling attacks with optimism.
Stats and trivia
- Mitchell Johnson became the 12th player to achieve the Test double of 2000 runs and 300 wickets at Edgbaston and Stuart Broad, with 299 wickets to his name, is poised to join the list on his home ground.
- Only Anderson has bowled more deliveries than Broad in international cricket in this decade.
- The Marsh brothers - the sons of former Australia opener Geoff - have appeared in a combined total of 20 Tests, but they have only played together once - against India at Brisbane last December.
- Steven Smith needs 59 runs to reach 3,000 in Tests
"The series has been slightly strange in the topsy-turvy nature of the results, but it has been brilliant to be part of it."
Alastair Cook relishing the unpredictability of the Ashes series
"I don't think you can build it up too much, I think you've got to play your best. You want the excitement that comes with a grand final, but you also want the calmness and freedom to go out there and play like you play in any other Test match."
Michael Clarke knows it is a vital Test, but also knows he needs to stay calm
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps