It’s late July and that of course means the end of the Test summer. With no more England men’s fixtures scheduled until the tour of India from the end of January 2024, you should probably try and make the most of the Oval Test. The nights are drawing in, as Prince Prefab messaged to tell us at exactly one minute past midnight on June 22.
Like all the most enjoyable things in life, it’s good to really hurry through a Test series and just get it over with. This one began less than six weeks ago, which is why we’ll again ask just how much of Pat Cummins will truly be appearing in this Test. Pat reckons he’s fine, but while he was physically present for the last match, he often looked like a hollow-eyed golem, dutifully trying to perform its cricket-ball-stopping obligations with clumsy clay arms.
Ben Stokes must be smouldering towards ash too. It’s been a heated month for a captain who previously burnt out while trying to fulfil his various cricketeting responsibilities, resulting in a spell out of the game. His influence with the ball is waning in particular. Short of bowling for the first Test at Lord’s, he was overbowled by the second and hasn’t turned his arm over since. As forecast in our list of 10 things to watch out for during this Ashes, Stokes is only really an all-rounder by reputation these days, not in any practical sense.
So giddy up for one last push, lads – and don’t be surprised if late-comers like Chris Woakes and Mitch Marsh have a big say in how the match pans out. The likes of Marnus Labuschagne, Jonny Bairstow and Zak Crawley – who are not coincidentally all batters – seem to have paced themselves pretty well too.
Let’s now have a word with Rick Dangerous to see what we might expect from the Oval surface these next few days.
Rick Dangerous says…
In my experience, you learn something important every time you revisit a given place. First time you go there, obviously you get crushed by a boulder. Waaaargh. Second time you go, you avoid the boulder but accidentally drop down onto some spikes that you didn’t know were there. Waaaargh. Third time you go, you avoid the boulder and the spikes and get killed in some other mystifying way. But this is how we learn: through being crushed by boulders and impaled on spikes.
Fortunately, a great many Test matches have been played at the Oval, so we already have a good bank of knowledge and a decent idea what to expect. Weirdly, the ground features zero boulders and zero hidden spikes.
Even more weirdly, both England and Australia won their most recent Test matches there. England skittered to a three-day win over South Africa last September after the first two days were abandoned. (Day one was a wash-out. Day two was a loss-of-monarch thing – although it would have been another wash-out even without that). Australia then beat India there in the World Test Championship final a month or so ago.
It’s hard to know what to conclude from those two results. Neither England nor South Africa reached 200 in the first game – although the home team definitely would have got there if 130-1 hadn’t been enough for victory in their second innings. (Zak Crawley made 69 not out off 57 balls.) In contrast, the World Test Championship final saw Australia make 469 batting first with totals tailing off a bit after that.
All 31 wickets fell to seam in the England game, while nine out of 38 fell to spin in the Australia game.
The three Tests prior to that also all involved England, India and Australia – because honestly, why play anyone else?
In all three of these matches, the highest total came in the winning team’s second innings. It’s perhaps also worth highlighting that in the last Ashes Test here, half of the second innings wickets fell to spin.
A greater unknown is of course the weather. At the time of writing, it looks like we might get the odd interruption, but as long as both teams keep their eyes peeled for concealed flamethrowers and stuff like that, we should get pretty much a full game. Waaaargh.
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