Ian Bell

Ian Bell Exclusive: Everything against England in pivotal fourth Test

England cricket Ian Bell
Ben Stokes is going to have to be creative to force and England win, says Ian

Our star columnist takes a close look at the key fourth Ashes Test starting on Wednesday and says England will have to be very clever to force a result against an Australia side with plenty in their favour

  • England legend Ian Bell in depth on the fourth Test

  • Weather not in England's advantage in must-win game

  • Aussie mentality could be key

Will England look to gamble?

If we thought England have been aggressive so far in this Ashes series, perhaps we've seen nothing yet.

The bottom line is that they need to win again at Old Trafford to have any chance of regaining the Ashes. A draw means the urn remains with Australia. And with the weather forecast looking wet for Manchester, they have a twin challenge.

Not only will Australia be confident on this wicket but the weather is a real threat to meaning that the series as a contest ends in something of a damp squib.

Expect a high-energy England performance as they desperately try to put time back in the game. They could be looking to do that from the first-innings. In short, it is perfect for Bazball.

It is the ultimate clash of styles, really. We know about England looking to play on the front foot. Australia have been a bit more cautious. A deep point and deep square for a bowler of Pat Cummins' quality so early in innings has been fascinating from Australia. And at 2-1 up you can't argue that their tactics have not been spot on.

Ben Stokes throws bat in air 1280.jpg

Having spoken to players who have faced the England batting onslaught over the last 12 months, the word that was always used was 'control'. Australia clearly have planned very well, talked about that and come up with a plan so they could try to retain some control of the run rate. It worked in the first two test matches.

Frustrate with the ball but attack with the bat

I'm sure that Australia will look to sit in and frustrate the England batters. But I don't think they should be as passive when it is their turn to bat. At Leeds, I think they were a bit cautious in the second innings in setting that target. They could have been more aggressive to spin and tried to put pressure back on the England bowlers.

Maybe thats why we saw Steve Smith get out the way he did. Maybe he was frustrated that Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja had allowed Moeen Ali just to bowl??

As much as Australia have the tactics and pitch to do well in Manchester. They don't need to win the game. They know that a draw delivers what they came for. As a player, when you know that you don't need to win it's important that it doesn't change your mindset.

I remember all too well that happening to England when we were in South Africa in 2010. We were 1-0 up going into the last Test in Johannesburg knowing that a stalemate would secure a famous series win.

And we got absolutely hammered by an innings and 74 runs. We were perhaps guilty of playing safe. In your head you absolutely have to be thinking that it is imperative you get the win.

Early declaration possible?

England, as I said, will want to be in that position to put time back into the game in case the weather forecast is correct.

We could well see England declaring early in the first-innings if they were to bat first. They know they may have to act in that way as early as possible because, with more rain expected on days four and five it is going to be harder for them to manufacture a result.

What I don't expect to see is any assistance from Australia to help force a result. There is just no upside for them to do that, regardless of the notion that people have paid good money to see a contest and that the series could have an anti-climactic end. Pat Cummins won't give England a sniff.

Pat Cummins takes Eng wicket  1280.jpg

England may want to bat last because it keeps them in the game in terms of a fourth-innings chase. They will, of course, go for anything.

They also know that there is no carrot for Australia so I can't see Ben Stokes knocking on the Aussie dressing room door and saying to Cummins 'do you want to chase 250 in 65 overs?'

During my Test career I have to say I was never in a team that was involved in any of those sorts of negotiations so I'm not entirely sure how it works. Would it be the captains? Would it be the coaches? I'm not sure. I just know that Australia will laugh off any England approach.

Smith gets good vibes

I expect Steve Smith to have a good game at Old Trafford. We didn't quite see him at His best at Headingley And that makes me nervous. His standards are so high and after Leeds I think his focus will be something else.

We know that he has an incredible record at this venue - a double century in 2019 - and I hope that what happened up at Headingley has woken him up or stirred extra motivation. He chipped a tame catch off Moeen Ali and he was furious with himself.

His reaction was very unlike him. He's gone away and probably obsessed about getting runs in this game, morning, noon and night. Psychologically he is going to really be on it.

Old Trafford is a great place to bat. I scored Test centuries there, as a player when you go back to a ground you did well at there is no doubt it makes you feel settled, relaxed and confident. Steve will sit in the same place in the dressing room and the vibes will come flooding back.

He looked in such good touch at Lord's. If he's very still at the point of release in Manchester and he's leaving the ball well, watch out.

Watch Ian Bell in our latest Cricket podcast here


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