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Preview: The Ashes: England vs. Australia Fourth Test - prediction, team news, series so far

Sports Mole previews the fourth Ashes Test between England and Australia at Old Trafford, including predictions, team news and how the series has gone so far.

After a nine-day break, England and Australia will resume their absorbing battle for the Ashes when the series heads West to Old Trafford and is set to get underway on Wednesday afternoon.

Following a heated encounter at Lord's the previous week, England bounced back in style at Headingley to keep the series alive by beating the Aussies by three wickets in the second session of day four.

Match preview

England's Harry Brook celebrates half-century in third Ashes Test on July 9, 2023.© Reuters

The Ashes series to date has exceeded all expectations, with each match going down to the wire and split by the finest margins, with a two-wicket win in the first match, a 43-run victory in the second, and a three-wicket triumph in the most recent encounter.

After winning his third consecutive coin toss in the series, Ben Stokes decided to send the Aussies in to bat at Headingley, and his side got off to a dream start, knocking over the first four wickets for just 85 runs in under 25 overs.

Mark Wood's pace at the top of the innings was nothing short of electric as he put in a Player of the Match performance, bagging seven wickets and also adding a valuable 40 runs with the bat at the bottom of the order.

England responded to the Aussies 263 with 237 in their first innings, with Stokes yet again top-scoring for his side, while Harry Brook dropping to number five seemed to do him a world of good as he put in a match-winning 75 in 93 balls in the second innings.

The psychological impact of that result on Brendan McCullum's men would have been immense following the drama at Lord's, and they will head into the next match at one of their most successful venues brimming with confidence.

The stage is set as we head to Old Trafford, and England will be looking to claim their second win in a row to set up a grandstand finish at the Oval, but it is worth bearing in mind that only once in the last 146 years of Test cricket between these proud nations has a side come from 2-0 down to win the Ashes.

Australia's Mitchell Marsh celebrates hitting century in third Ashes Test on July 6, 2023.© Reuters

Meanwhile, Australia were not to be outdone by the selection masterclass of McCullum and Stokes, as their decision to recall Mitchell Marsh to the starting 11 proved to be a stroke of genius as well.

The all-rounder stepped to the wicket in the first innings with his side in all sorts of trouble and steadied the ship with an immense 118 runs off 118 balls, helping his side to 263 with the help of Travis Head.

It was the same combination that did the hard work in the second innings after the top four batsmen made less than 100 runs between them, with Head scoring 77 and Marsh making 30, that enabled the Aussies to post a defendable 251-run target.

Captain Pat Cummins was once again the pick of the bowlers for the Australians as he bagged six wickets for 91 runs in 18 overs in the first innings, while Mitchell Starc took five for 78 in the second.

Few can forget the 211 in 319 balls by Steve Smith at this venue back in 2019 which saw the Australians win that series, and Cummins and co will be hoping to deliver a similar performance here to break the hearts of the English in Manchester once again.

Team News

England bowler James Anderson during first Ashes Test against Australia in June 2023.© Reuters

McCullum has wasted no time in announcing the side that will take the field at Old Trafford, and there is only one change that has been made with James Anderson replacing Ollie Robinson after being rested for the third Test.

Stokes revealed that Moeen Ali's promotion to number three was a result of the off-spinner asking to be moved up in the second innings, and he has been retained up the order for this match, allowing Brook to bat at his favoured number five.

Meanwhile, Australia are yet to confirm their final team, but many are already expecting Scott Boland, who failed to take a single wicket at Headingley, to be replaced by Josh Hazlewood.

Marsh's incredible performance in the last Test will likely see him keep his place in the Australian middle order, which should mean there is no place for Cameron Green to return to the side.

The final key decision for the visitors will be over the selection of David Warner, who has only managed one innings of any substance in the first three Tests, and there is a large faction of Aussie supporters that are calling for Michael Neser to be given a chance after a few years of incredible performances at domestic level.

England squad: Ben Stokes (capt), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Dan Lawrence, Moeen Ali, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Josh Tongue, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (capt), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Todd Murphy, Michael Neser, Jimmy Pierson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner

Series so far

First Test: Australia won by two wickets
England - 393/8d and 273
Australia - 386 and 282/8

Second Test: Australia won by 43 runs
Australia - 416 and 279
England - 325 and 327

Third Test: England won by three wickets
Australia - 263 and 224
England - 237 and 254/7

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We say: Australia to win

With rain in the last few days around Manchester and more predicted over days two and three, a draw seems like the most likely result, especially when you consider that 17 of the last 30 matches between these nations at this venue have ended level.

While the momentum is undoubtedly with the hosts after the last match, Australia thrives in these situations and tends to find a way to carve out results. If the rain stays away, we fancy the visitors to secure the win, but we can easily see them playing for a draw, which will be enough to see them retain the urn.

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England's Ben Stokes during third Ashes Test on July 7, 2023.
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