So here we go. Eyes down for a full house. England won the toss and put Australia into bat. Mark Wood will share the new ball with Stuart Broad. They are otherwise unchanged and Adam Lyth is given another chance.
Australia lose a Mitchell but retain their Marsh quotient by replacing Mitchell Marsh with Shaun Marsh. They’ve dropped an all-rounder to strengthen the batting, and Marsh will bat at four, with Michael Clarke dropping to five. Adam Voges, a lucky man, keeps his place.
This is the thread for all your comments and views as the day progresses. Can England exploit the conditions? How much will they miss Anderson? Will Clarke rise to the occasion and confect a priceless captain’s innings, just when his team needs it most?
You can’t help but feel that today has special significance for the outcome of this series. If England comprehensively win the day, it’s game over. But a dominant three sessions with the bat for Australia will change the dynamic once again – and without Anderson, England will find it harder than before to wrest back the initiative.
As the day begins, though, the fact remains that England need win only one of the next two tests to complete the most unexpected Ashes victory for decades. How do we all feel about that?
In the past, and still for most England supporters, this would be a total no-brainer. England win the Ashes – what’s not to like? The fact speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Let joy be unconfined. Beating Australia is beating Australia, simple as.
For others though, and I am one, the reality is more complex and nuanced. If you’ve not already read it, I recommend taking a look at this epic piece by Lord Canis Lupus, at Being Outside Cricket. Whatever your stance, it’s certainly food for thought.
His phrase ‘papering over the cracks’ struck me as specially resonant. Because if England do win the Ashes, that will happen. Ashes victory = validation and vindication. Ashes ownership= a claim to perfection and contentment. Because it can be very convenient to use the urn as an opiate for the masses.
We will be told that because England won, everything in the garden is rosy and all aspects of English cricket work perfectly. We will be scolded for cynicism and instructed that every criticism of English cricket institutions is invalidated by the photo of Alastair Cook holding the urn. The county system, grass-roots funding, TV deals, schools cricket, the recreational game, and the whole culture and mentality of the ECB – everything is exactly as it should be, and the proof is in the terracotta.
None of which means you shouldn’t enjoy England’s victory – should it come to pass. But we mustn’t let it be misappropriated. If England win, the triumph belongs to the players and the supporters, not to administrators. And we should argue it’s a starting point – an opportunity for progress and reform – rather than the end to all debate.
But that conversation is for another time. England may yet not win. Let’s see how today goes first.