Third Test preview: England v Australia

There's been a substantial break between the second and third Ashes Tests, and all eyes will be on Old Trafford to see if England's rest did them the world of good, and if the Australians learned from the defeat at Lord's.

There's been a substantial break between the second and third Ashes Tests, and all eyes will be on Old Trafford to see if England's rest did them the world of good, and if the Australians learned from the defeat at Lord's.

England didn't play a game in the intervening week, while the Aussies played to a draw against Sussex at Hove. A result was not the goal, but rather to give their top order some time in the middle, and nearly everyone managed to get some runs on the board.

In fact, the selectors have a difficult job for the third Test, in that batsmen who were on the sidelines made cases for inclusion, while those in the second Test side, like Usman Khawaja, did nothing to suggest they should be dropped.

Ed Cowan, dropped for Lord's, scored two half centuries at Hove, while Phil Hughes also bagged a big half ton. Steve Smith scored an unbeaten century, and David Warner put his hand up in a big way by scoring 193 against South Africa A in Pretoria.

So now the question is, who will be picked? Smith seemed to pick up a bit of a back niggle, but it didn't seem to be enough to rule him out. If he is hurt, one imagines Warner will play in his stead. And could Cowan take Khawaja's place? We'll find out at the toss, predicting this is like throwing a dart and the squad list and hoping for the best.

As for the Aussie bowling, it's expected that spinner Nathan Lyon will get his place back, and Ashton Agar will be dropped. The teenager ousted the veteran for the first two games, but didn't take enough wickets to justify keeping Lyon out on a ground made for spin. The likelihood of both being selected is slim, given Smith's presence as a part-time yet effective tweaker.

The Sussex match proved fruitful for England in one sense, with diminutive Nottinghamshire batsman James Taylor granted a place in the line-up, and going on to score a nifty century. This scored him a place in the England squad.

He was brought in as cover for Kevin Pietersen, who picked up a calf injury at Lord's. But indications from Alastair Cook on Wednesday were that KP would be fit to play, though his absence would be ably covered by Taylor.

The rest of the England top order is set to remain unchanged, while the bowling could see a change or two. Monty Panesar's record at Old Trafford is immense, but he wouldn't replace Graeme Swann for any reason other than injury. He'll play if Andy Flower goes with two specialist spinners.

The fast bowling department has seen a shuffle with Steve Finn and Graham Onions being dropped, and Chris Tremlett brought in. There was no room for sentiment, and the fantastic-when-fit Tremlett would replace Tim Bresnan if given a game.

<b>Prediction</b><br>England haven't lost at Old Trafford since 2001, and we don't expect them to start now. For the sake of all Australians, we're going to predict a century for one of the top order, but it will be in vain as Graeme Swann will record a 10-fer to win the game, and thus the series early on day five.

<b>Key Men</b><br>For England, it's got to be <b>Joe Root</b>. His century at Lord's cemented his place in the side without a doubt, and elevated him to the top scorer in the series by a large margin. Also, given the dry track, his off spin could prove vital against batsmen who dislike turning decks.

For the Aussies, Steve Smith could be a similar character to Root, scoring a ton at Hove and contributing with spin, but he might not be fully fit, so we'll take a risk and say that <b>Nathan Lyon</b> will be the man to watch (if he plays ahead of Agar).

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013 2nd Ashes Test: England won by 347 runs at Lord's<br>2013 1st Ashes Test: England won by 14 runs in Nottingham<br>2011 5th Ashes Test: England won by an innings and 83 runs in Sydney<br>2010 4th Ashes Test: England won by an innings and 157 runs in Melbourne<br>2010 3rd Ashes Test: Australia won by 267 runs in Perth

<b>Squads</b><br><i>England</i>: Alastair Cook (capt), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Joe Root, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Chris Tremlett, Monty Panesar, James Taylor

<i>Australia</i>: Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Ed Cowan, James Faulkner, Ryan Harris, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Shane Watson.

Dates: 1-5 August<br>Morning session: 11:00-13:00 (10:00-12:00 GMT)<br>Afternoon session: 13:40-15:40 (12:40-14:40 GMT)<br>Evening session: 16:00-18:00 (15:00-17:00 GMT)<br>On-field umpires: Marais Erasmus, Tony Hill<br>Third umpire: Kumar Dharmasena<br>Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle