Nathan Lyon's absence opens the door for young Victorian spinner but of greater conjecture is what mix of fast bowlers both sides will deploy after the back-breaking bouncer barrage at Lord's
Aussies to weigh up Murphy, pace options for Headingley
Australia's bid for a first Ashes series win on British turf in more than two decades will continue without the services of their premier spin bowler after Nathan Lyon was today formally ruled out of the rest of the campaign.
Lyon hobbled from the field at Lord's on Thursday evening with what was later diagnosed as a "significant" calf strain and immediately seemed unlikely to recover in time for the final three Tests at Headingley (starting Thursday), Old Trafford and The Oval.
That diagnosis was confirmed today when Australia trimmed their squad from 18 to 16 for the upcoming third Test, with auxiliary batter Matthew Renshaw also relinquished although the Queenslander will remain in the UK as a standby player.
The loss of Lyon looms as a significant challenge for Australia who took a 2-0 lead in the five-Test series with their dramatic 43-run win at Lord's on Sunday, given the 35-year-old was poised to become just the eighth men's bowler – and third Australian – to reach 500 Test wickets.
But while a ready replacement looms in 22-year-old off-spinner Todd Murphy, who won a place in the Ashes squad on the back of an impressive debut Test series in India earlier this year, it is not yet known whether he will make his maiden Ashes appearance later this week.
With mostly sunny weather forecast for Yorkshire this week, and temperatures tipped to reach mid-20C by the weekend, the likelihood of spin having a role to play in the third Test is significantly increased.
Of greater conjecture will be the make-up of Australia's pace attack at Headingley given the tight three-day turnaround after Lord's where quicks from both teams were called upon to deliver lengthy spells of back-breaking bouncers.
For England, the toll could prove higher because their four-pronged seam attack is markedly older – James Anderson turns 41 later this month, while Stuart Broad is 37 – and Australia batted beyond 100 overs in both their innings at Lord's.
In comparison, Australia sent down 176 overs across England's two innings although front-line quicks Pat Cummins (41.2 overs), Mitchell Starc (38.3) and Josh Hazlewood (31) carried a higher workload than normal due to Lyon's absence from the bowling crease for much of the match.
As a result, Australia men's team coach Andrew McDonald will face a similar judgement call as they did at Edgbaston ahead of the first Ashes Test which started just days after Australia's win at the World Test Championship final over India at The Oval.
"I think the conversation was the same going into Edgbaston, then clearly Scotty Boland had played two Tests in a row," McDonald said in explaining why Starc got the nod ahead of Boland for Lord's.
"We felt as though we wanted a little more flexibility in the attack with the left-arm angle, and we felt potentially with that extra pace we might need some impetus with the short ball.
"Starcy does bowl short balls at times, but haven’t seen him commit to a barrage like that (at Lord's) for any time in his career, so I thought he was outstanding."
The huge number of short-pitched deliveries sent down by both teams during the Lord's Test will surely have taken a toll on fast bowlers from either side, and England also seem certain to call up their fastest bowler Mark Wood who has been struggling to overcome an elbow injury.
They might also opt for spin-bowling all-rounder Moeen Ali, who suffered a split blister on his spinning finger during the Edgbaston Test, given the absence of a specialist spinner at Lord's meant skipper Ben Stokes felt compelled to bowl 12 overs on the trot despite nursing an injured left knee.
Boland will return to the reckoning for Headingley and, with fellow seamer Michael Neser also in the reduced squad, Australia will mull over personnel changes.
But Starc provided a compelling case for retention after making two crucial breakthroughs with the new ball in England's second innings at Lord's – opener Zak Crawley, and number three Ollie Pope with a devastating in-swinger – and completing Australia's win by claiming the final wicket on Sunday.
"The inclusion of Mitchell Starc was questioned at the start of the Test match," McDonald said in the aftermath of the Lord's win that has Australia on track for their first Ashes series win in England since 2001.
An all-time Mitch Starc #SaturdaySeed! pic.twitter.com/zLb4ndLFJ5— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) July 1, 2023
"It was a big decision for us to make, but I think that makes a lot of sense to people and the way Starcy went about it gave us a different option.
"It gave us a different balance of attack and I think that the way that the bowling unit was able to navigate through that was outstanding.
"We obviously feel when conditions are in his favour, he’ll curl the ball and when they’re not everyone struggles to swing the ball.
"To see his impact with the new ball, almost a couple of conventional Test wickets from Pat (Cummins) and himself gave us a really good start early, four down early really put them (England) on the back foot.
"Promising signs for Starcy, but we feel as though we have a really good (bowling) collective to get through the series."
McDonald said today he would prefer there was a specialist spinner included in the starting XI , but suggested he and his fellow selectors George Bailey (chair) and Tony Dodemaide would wait until inspecting the Headingley pitch later in the week before making a call.
"It's too early to tell," McDonald said when asked if it was a straightforward matter of Murphy being an automatic replacement for Lyon, who was injured in his 100th consecutive Test appearance.
"It's a short turnaround, so we’ll assess where everyone’s at and assess the surface and weather conditions up there (in Leeds).
"But Todd is pretty well placed.
"We like to have a spinner in our attack, it’s a different balance, and as you saw (on Sunday) at certain times, we had to do it differently without Nathan Lyon down the other end which we’ve been so used to.
"At times it looked a bit chaotic, so we do like to have that spin option in the attack."
Murphy was ordained as 35-year-old Lyon's likely successor when named for the tour of India, where he played all four Tests and finished as Australia's second-highest wicket-taker (behind Lyon) with 14 at an average of 25.21, including India's most celebrated batter Virat Kohli four times.
As a big spinner of the ball with an energetic action not dissimilar to former England off-spinner Graeme Swann, Murphy brings the advantage of being a comparative unknown to Australia's Ashes rivals given he did not play first-class cricket until two years ago.
However, Headingley has rarely been regarded as a spinner's ground although England's premier finger spinner Jack Leach – who, like Lyon, has been ruled out of this Ashes series due to injury – claimed match figures of 10-166 in the most recent Test at the venue, against New Zealand last year.
2023 Qantas Ashes Tour of the UK
First Test: Australia won by two wickets
Second Test: Australia won by 43 runs
Third Test: Thursday July 6-Monday July 10, Headingley
Fourth Test: Wednesday July 19-Sunday July 23, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: Thursday July 27-Monday 31, The Oval
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey (wk), Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Todd Murphy, Michael Neser, Jimmy Peirson, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, David Warner
England squad: Ben Stokes (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Dan Lawrence, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Josh Tongue, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood