Ian Bell

Ian Bell Exclusive: England must stop Steve Smith in fourth Test at Old Trafford

  • Ian Bell
  • 4:00 min read
Betfair ambassador Ian Bell
Ian says Old Trafford could be England's toughest Test

Betfair ambassador Ian Bell looks back on England's win over Australia in the third Ashes Test and ahead to the fourth at Old Trafford where the hosts must be ruthless or Steve Smith will capitalise...

  • Steve Smith the danger man at Old Trafford

  • Anderson will be raring to go in 4th Test

  • England can pinch series 3-2 if they are perfect

First things first. Game on!

Another incredible Test match - this series is certainly living up to expectations.

There are two challenges for England in this fascinating, thrilling Ashes series as the fourth Test approaches next Wednesday. The Old Trafford pitch and Steve Smith. They are both connected.

For all the excitement and joy at England getting over the line at Headingley, it has to be said that the wicket at the ground was in their perfect. The ball seamed, swung and zipped. I don't expect the Manchester surface to be similar. Nor do I expect Steve Smith to have another quiet game.

Smith, you may remember, made it miserable in Manchester for England in 2019 when he stroked an imperious double century. It could be the toughest game of the series for England. But let's come back to that.

England bowlers must menace Aussies again

Instead we should revel in England's nailbiting success. It feels like it's been a long time coming. It could so easily be them taking a 2-1 lead to Old Trafford, harking back to that Edgbaston test which they should really have won.

What was so great about Headingley was that we used home advantage.

The pitch was ideal for our bowlers. We should not produce wickets which make the Aussies feel at home. When the ball is moving around it is a challenge to there techniques. Their batters just don't see it as often because of the Kookaburra ball they use Down Under which goes soft after 20-odd overs.

Mark Wood, Test - 1280.jpg

England look such a good side when there is that menace. And particularly when they have Mark Wood steaming in at those speeds. When a bowler is hitting 97mph it is hard enough to deal with the pace but any sort of shape on the ball is a nightmare. And obviously the Australians didn't deal with it.

Wood performance gives selectors dilemma

With Wood in sensational form England have a selection headache. James Anderson and Josh Tongue are waiting in the wings. Ollie Robinson is the man in possession. And Chris Woakes is undroppable after a super all-round effort.

As for Wood, I don't think his body will hold up playing three Tests straight off the bat so he will play in only one more. Dare England risk defeat in Manchester only to bring him back for The Oval with the series gone? Surely not.

Stuart Broad, of course, must play and must play all five because he keeps getting David Warner out. Broad is inside his head and it looks a psychological issue now because technically Warner hasn't been too bad.

So Wood, Woakes and Broad all play. My selection would be to recall James Anderson. Jimmy will be chomping at the bit to get out there again knowing his character. He will have watched the ball move in Leeds and be excited to start testing out those Australian batters.

And that brings me back to the Old Trafford pitch. It is a very hard, abrasive surface. It will take reverse swing and spin. Oddly, it is a very Australian wicket with bounce and carry. Jimmy, then, could be bang in the game if he gets it to reverse. Watch out for Wood, too.

Stuart Broad James Anderson.jpg

It will be interesting to see how Murphy goes.

Pat Cummins shied away from using him too much in that fourth-innings chase in the third Test. I suspect we will see a different Murphy, though. One who tosses it up and looks to get drift and shape on the ball.

In Leeds he was bowling darts to try to take down Ben Stokes in belligerent mood. It was a baptism of fire but he looks in the future to take over from Nathan Lyon.

Smith determined to score at Old Trafford again

As for Smith, well, you have to think he is due a big score.

He's not dominated like many expected. And in Leeds he looked a little frustrated in the second-innings, perhaps because his team were not scoring quickly enough and allowing England to dictate. His dismissal off Moeen Ali was a rare error of judgement.

Steve Smith Australia captain after winning the Ashes.jpg

At a ground where he has such a fine record, he worries me. He scored 211 in the first-innings there four years ago and followed it up with 82 in the second. It's often forgotten that he also got runs way back in 2013 as he showcased that ability to switch from legspinner to the world's best.

I am still hopeful that England pinch this series 3-2. We know England have to be perfect and this really is their toughest examination.

Old mate Marsh fires

Mitchell Marsh produced one of the innings of the series in the third Test. It was as brilliant as it was extraordinary.

And I don't mind saying that it was nice to see him go well because he was a former team-mate of mine when I played for Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash.

There are few more naturally-talented batters in the world than Mitch and he's a good guy, too. We saw in his press conference what a funny person he can be and that's how I remember him. He was able to make jokes and get people laughing even at serious times and it looks like he is being true to himself now.

Perhaps when he started his international career he wasn't as carefree or relaxed and was trying to be something he's not.

He looks like he belongs. And he batted like that. Coming into the side because Cameron Green was injured he probably felt like he had nothing to lose and even though he'd had no preparation it was just a free hit to him. Sometimes that mindset produces the best results.

On a fast and bouncy Old Trafford pitch he should feel at home because that's what the Perth pitch was like. He may keep his place ahead of Green whose batting isn't as strong. Marsh's wickets at Leeds will make him difficult to drop.

Who bats at No 3 for England?

Harry Brook? Moeen Ali? Jonny Bairstow? Ben Stokes? Joe Root? All are candidates to bat at No 3 for England in the final two Ashes tests. It's a tricky call but, England being England, I believe they will let the match situation dictate who goes in there.

In a fourth-innings chase, for example, I can well see Moeen getting the job to try to give the innings impetus with fast-scoring and panic Australia.

If it's a tight, nailbiting situation maybe Joe is the man for the job. If we were talking about the old-fashioned England I would probably say that Joe should go up. I know he wants to bat at No 4 but there's not a huge difference between the two positions.

Ben Stokes at Lord's.jpg

I've heard a few people mention Stokes. But do we want to give Australia that scalp so early in an innings? I don't think so. He is our talisman and we would miss those back-end fireworks. Australia fear that.

It won't be Jonny, either. And no, he won't be dropped. England are going to get around him now and back him to the hilt. Dropping him would send the wrong message to the team and to Australia. They're all in it together for these last two matches.

Watch Ian in our latest podcast here...


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