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England have made a number of changes for the Boxing Day test in an effort to keep the Ashes alive.
In total, there are four changes. None of them are linked to injury.
Zak Crawley, the 23-year-old who averages 28.34 on 15 tests, replaces Rory Burns, whose run to the top of the order is over after producing scores as ugly as his technique.
Veteran Jonny Bairstow, who hasn’t averaged more than 31 since 2017 and averaged just 27.30 on seven tests against Australia, replaces Ollie Pope in the middle of the order.
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Then there are two changes in the offense, with Mark Wood returning for Stuart Broad who was dropped after returning for the second test, while spinner Jack Leach comes for Chris Woakes after being controversially dropped for the Adelaide revolving counter.
As Australia has been forced to change their attack pace due to injuries and Covid, England is pulling in the breeze, according to former captains Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain.
“England are considering up to four changes in a game they need to win to keep the Ashes alive,” former opener Atherton wrote in The temperature. “Zak Crawley is considering replacing Rory Burns; Likewise Jonny Bairstow for Ollie Pope, with Mark Wood and Jack Leach potentially on the attack for Chris Woakes and another. One would particularly sense Crawley, a young player making his way into the game and potentially invited to open in a test match that hasn’t hit in over 2.5 months. Ridiculous, really.
“No batsman, except Joe Root and Dawid Malan, could complain if he was dropped, but the lack of cricket played by the reserves must make the understandable urge to change reflect. Everyone in possession was forced to go through what has been described as an uncomfortable debriefing after Adelaide’s test, and it would be interesting to see how many would respond if the opportunity presented itself again. If Pope, for example, is to have a long career, he must be able to work his way through sticky patches like these. “
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Hussain was equally scathing, lamenting the lack of planning and foresight with the changes given the lack of match training.
“The problem now is that if England are going to make any changes for the third test, starting in Melbourne on Saturday night they will bring in people like Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow who didn’t have time in the middle,” the 2002- 03 The Captain of the Ashes wrote in the Daily mail.
“That’s why I found it ridiculous that they and Dan Lawrence didn’t take the opportunity to play in the Lions’ only game against Australia A. Now they might just be asked to step into the MCG in front of 70,000 people against a world-class attack without any hitting rhythm under their belt.
After a week of negative headlines, captain Joe Root and wicket keeper Jos Buttler were talking optimistically and positively on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“It’s a huge game for us. Of course it’s a great place to come and play cricket, I think everyone is very excited to be here in what I’m sure will be a harsh environment but one to embrace and enjoy ”, Buttler told reporters on Boxing Day.
“We know we have to bring our best cricket. We haven’t brought that up to this point in the show and it’s disappointing, and the situation we’re in, we have to get to it quickly.
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All England XI enter the series under pressure.
Even Jimmy Anderson, who has 635 wickets and added three to his incredible collection in Adelaide, has to shoot with careers on the line.
The same is said about Leach, the orthodox left-arm spinner who was treated with disdain by Australian beaters at Gabba and ended up dumped in Adelaide after taking just 1-102.
When asked if Aussie beaters would target Leach, a respectful Cummins didn’t give much and said his men would play every ball on its merits.
“I think we’ll assess,” Cummins added. “It’s up to the batters to have their own game plan.
“If they sense an opportunity, grab it for sure. They are world class bowlers, they play Test cricket for a reason so if they play well you take your meds but if you feel an opportunity of course be brave.
AUSTRALIA XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (week), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Nathan Lyon
ENGLAND XI: Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (week), Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach, Jimmy Anderson