(Reuters) – As England basked in an Ashes salvation led by all-rounder Ben Stokes at Headingley, Australia were left to hope for the return of their own saviour in Steve Smith for the fourth test at Old Trafford.
Stokes was deservedly hailed on Monday for his heroic unbeaten 135 that secured a rousing one-wicket win to level the series at 1-1.
In time, however, paceman Jofra Archer might be viewed as the man who turned the series on its head with a bouncer that left Smith floored at Lord’s and still dizzy at Leeds.
Smith’s concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne did all that could have been asked of him, carving out a defiant pair of half-centuries at Headingley despite some bruising treatment from England’s pacemen.
The all-rounder’s contributions were branded Smith-like by home pundits, not merely in the sense that he top-scored for Australia but more ruefully that his was virtually a lone hand.
It may have been England’s abject first innings 67 that hogged the headlines early in the test, but Australia had little to cheer in their own opening 179.
In the cold light of defeat and without Smith’s large shadow, Australia’s batsmen have nowhere to hide.
Most head to Old Trafford in dire form.
Usman Khawaja’s total of 31 runs at Headingley leaves him with an average of 20.33 for the series.
His is still comfortably better than opener David Warner’s 13.16, a mark flattered by his first innings 61 at Headingley.
Matthew Wade’s 110 in the Edgbaston opener now seems a distant memory, with a combined 40 runs in his four innings since.
Opener Marcus Harris, who replaced the jettisoned Cameron Bancroft, failed to make the most of his chance, scoring eight and 19 at Headingley, while grassing a tough chance that would have dismissed Stokes and secured Australia victory.
Wicketkeeper-captain Paine’s poor series with the bat continued as he managed 11 and a second innings duck.
He later wasted Australia’s last review, costing spinner Nathan Lyon what would have been the match-winning wicket after his lbw shout on Stokes was turned down in the dramatic finish.
Smith, still far and away Australia’s top run-scorer with 378 runs from two matches, was back in the nets on Sunday and is expected to play in the three-day tour match against Derbyshire starting Thursday.
All eyes will be on Smith to see whether his confidence has been knocked by the sickening blow from Archer.
Lyon is another left to face his demons after fumbling a run out chance that would have given Australia victory.
“He’ll feel terrible at the moment, he’ll feel like he’s let his team down,” former Australia captain Ricky Ponting told Cricket Australia’s website (cricket.com.au).
“But it’s up to his mates to get him up. That’s the bottom line.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)