England v Australia – Ashes battle between Steve Smith and Jofra Archer ‘one to be savoured’

Stuart Broad is bristling with excitement at the prospect of watching Jofra Archer renew his battle with Steve Smith during the fourth Ashes Test.

Australia's Steve Smith during a nets session at Old Trafford. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA
Australia's Steve Smith during a nets session at Old Trafford. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

The Ashes are well and truly alive after Ben Stokes’s heroics brought England back from the brink at Headingley, and the teams will square off at Emirates Old Trafford on Wednesday tied at 1-1 with two to play.

While Stokes is undeniably the man of the moment, having made his bid for the greatest Test innings of all time, there is also the tantalising promise of seeing the most compelling head-to-head contest of the summer reprised.

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Archer bowled a fierce spell at Smith during the drawn match at Lord’s last month, culminating in a 92mph bouncer that struck Australia’s best batsman in the neck and left him with a concussion that ruled him out of events at Leeds.

FAST TRACK: England's Jofra Archer during a nets session at Old Trafford. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

Smith, who has 378 runs in three innings, appeared in last week’s tour match against Derbyshire and will be looking to prove he can get the better of Archer this time around.

Broad, for one, cannot wait.

“It’s great to have him back. No-one wants to see anyone miss cricket through a head injury. But Test cricket is a brutal sport, it’s a sport where countries go hell for leather against each other,” he said.

“I’m sure when Steve comes in Jofra will be in Joe Root’s ear wanting the ball, no doubt about that. Jofra will be excited to continue that battle.

England's Ben Stokes bats during a nets session at Old Trafford. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

“There will be a period in this game where those two come together again and touch wood I’m on the pitch to view it. That’s the intensity Test cricket brings, that’s the theatre.

“I might be stood at mid-on but I’ll be excited when Jofra asks for that ball.

“It was a really tasty bit of cricket at Lord’s, Smith was on 70 or 80, playing beautifully, and Jofra went from 84mph to 95mph. He was really charging in.

“That sort of cricket is awesome to watch on the telly or from the stands but when you’re stood at mid-on it’s pretty special. Hopefully, we can have a battle like that again.”

Australia head coach Justin Langer. Picture: Simon Cooper/PA

While Australia will be buoyed by the return of their cornerstone, England are dealing with the fact that their record wicket-taker, James Anderson, is out of the series.

Having pulled up on the first morning of the opening match with a calf injury, his hopes of coming back in time for his home Test have been scotched. Instead, at the age of 37, the focus has shifted to when and if he will play again.

There has been no indication that he is ready to walk away and Broad expects his long-term bowling partner to do everything in his power to wear the Three Lions again.

“I had in my mind the idea that it was almost written in the stars that he would be back, open the bowling at the James Anderson End and bowl us to victory, but that’s not going to happen,” he added.

“He’s got a lot of cricket left in him. I think he’s realistic – at 37 your body takes longer to heal. He’s got a period of time now that he can let it rest.

“I don’t know for certain, but from the conversations I’ve had, he’s looking at the winter and getting fit and wanting to be on that trip (to New Zealand).”

At 33, Broad is enjoying a renaissance of his own after finding himself edged out of the side at various points during recent trips to Sri Lanka and the West Indies, with 14 wickets at 25.35 in the series.

And he has indicated he is working towards the finals of the inaugural World Test Championship, hosted in England in 2021.

“This is the best I’ve bowled in three or four years,” he said.

“I feel I have reinvented myself in the last six or seven weeks on the international stage and that’s come from hunger and drive to get better.

“It’s an encouraging sign at 33 that I’m not tailing off.

“I’m actually wanting to continue and try and win this Test championship.

“It doesn’t feel like the Ashes series is the new cycle anymore, it feels like that World Test Championship Final is the new cycle.”

Justin Langer, meanwhile, admitted that Stokes’s audacious match-winning efforts at Headingley left Australia feeling like the Ashes had been “stolen”.

The head coach had earlier told Australian media that England’s incredible one-wicket win, a record chase of 359 made possible by Stokes’s unbeaten 135, had left him “physically sick” and unsure whether to “cry my eyes out or smash my hotel room”.

Had Stokes fallen short, Australia would have retained the urn with two games to spare, instead of hostilities resuming on Wednesday with everything to play for.

“Think about Muhammad Ali getting his bike stolen (as a child),” explainded Langer. “He got his bike stolen and that was the fire he needed to become the greatest boxer of all time.

“We felt a bit like we got the Ashes stolen at Headingley.

“They won that Test match, so we felt a bit like it had been stolen from us.

“Now we’ve got to work out what we’re going to do, and use that as fire.

“We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves and let it slip.

“The great players and great teams – in business and life – they have their ups and downs but they always fight back from it.”