I’ll see you again tomorrow (presuming England don’t do something utterly horrendous over the next few hours).
Hello everybody and welcome to live OBO coverage of the fourth day of the fourth Test of the Ashes from Old Trafford.
And what a day we have in store. After three rain-interrupted days the match is delicately poised. Australia are the only combatant with a chance of winning but to do so they must engineer 15 English wickets on a surface containing few demons; not to mention find enough time to plunder enough second-innings runs of their own to bolt the backdoor behind them.
It’s a well-worn cliche this series but the opening hour, and opening session, will be crucial. Should England survive the remaining six overs with the old ball and progress through the early stages of the second new Dukes without much alarm, Australia’s task will grow in difficulty by the minute. A rapid collapse and England will be staring at an almighty rearguard action this evening and throughout tomorrow.
Once again England turn to Ben Stokes for protection. He has the complexion of a Wildling and the glacial melt eyes of a White Walker but with Stokes on night’s watch his teammates could sleep soundly knowing the best-equipped batsman in the team will be at the crease for potentially the most significant passage of play in the Test. Around him Jonny Bairstow, and in particular Jos Buttler – when he strides out as a specialist No.8 – must prove their worth. The latter is a luxury England can ill-afford in recent form, unless he switches codes and transforms into Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard; but not both, never both, we don’t want to open that can of worms again.
Australia’s day will be determined in two phases. In the morning session with the new ball the relentlessly impressive Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins will hope to recapture the venom that threatened to rip the match decisively their way late yesterday. After lunch all eyes turn to Nathan Lyon to exploit a surface that is increasingly receptive to spin.
It all amounts to what should be an engrossing day of Test match cricket.