After witnessing one of the all-time great Test matches at Headingley, the 2019 Ashes series moves on to Old Trafford in Manchester with both teams stuck at 1-1. This match could decide who gets to keep the Ashes. If Australia win, they would retain the urn while an English victory would make an Australian comeback extremely hard.
So, let's have a quick preview of the upcoming Test with a look at the 5 factors that will determine the outcome of the match.
Form of Australian openers
Even though Steve Smith's return to the Australian team adds immensely to their middle-order strength, the Baggy Greens can't continue relying on him alone to get their team to a good score. This is where the importance of the opening pair comes into focus. So far, David Warner's performance has been below expectations while there have been two openers tried at the other end. Marcus Harris didn't do much in the last Test but he seems like a quality player. A lot would depend on Harris and Warner. If Australia have to win, these two will have to lay a solid platform.
While good teams are able to win in all conditions, the two teams competing in this series have very vulnerable batting line-ups. So, the nature of pitch would be very important in determining the result of the game. With quality bowlers in both line-ups, any bit of grass on the pitch would lead to another low-scoring contest. However, James Anderson's absence and the dropping of Chris Woakes suggests that England don't want a swing and seam-friendly wicket. Perhaps, they would like a flat track and rely on Jofra Archer's pace and Stuart Broad's seam bowling to get them across the line.
Form of Nathan Lyon
After getting nine wickets in the first Test of the series, Nathan Lyon had to settle for just five in the next two games. But he hasn't bowled badly. It's been bad luck and the conditions that have been keeping his success rate down. His form would be crucial as well. An in-form Lyon means Australian pacers not only have good support but also that there is a serious threat to batsmen from his end. The way England played Lyon seemed to suggest that he would be targeted by them. The success or otherwise of Lyon may decide the fate of England's batting.
Joe Root's form
While everyone was talking about the heroics of Ben Stokes after the last Test, many forgot that even Joe Root had played a very good innings. After suffering two successive dismissals on ducks, he came good and played a good knock in the second innings of the third Test. That innings may suggest that he is getting back into top form. If that's the case, then England would be greatly relieved. Their middle-order has also looked vulnerable and Root has to lead the way in its recovery. If he scores runs, the whole batting line-up may improve its output.
Smith vs Stokes
In the three unfinished innings that Steve Smith has played in this Ashes series so far, he has scored 378 runs. Needless to say, his comeback will boost Australia. But can he continue to deliver such returns? What about Stokes, he has been performing brilliantly as well, both with the bat and the ball. People are comparing his performance in this rubber to that of Sir Ian Botham in the 1981 Ashes. Can he sustain his form? In the end, it may well be the case that whomever of these two continues their purple patch will lead his team to a win.