Pat Cummins has set Australia the blueprint for how to bowl England out and retain the Ashes, according to Steve Smith.
The ex-captain’s 82 helped the tourists set England 383 to win at Old Trafford on Saturday, with the weather forecast clear for the final day of the Test.
Victory would ensure Australia cannot lose the series, though they will be wary of England’s stunning comeback in the last match at Headingley, where Ben Stokes and Jack Leach completed an improbable one-wicket win to level the series.
England’s task is even taller this time, however, with Cummins having brilliantly removed both Rory Burns and Joe Root in a superb opening over – the captain castled first ball – leaving Australia needing eight wickets on Sunday to secure the urn.
“I found when I first went out to the middle, when you bowl a good length there’s enough up and down and sideways movement,” Smith told reporters. “My first 20 or 30 balls I felt vulnerable when they were bowling a good length.
“Patty [Cummins] hit it beautifully tonight and I think that ball to Root is probably a blueprint for what we need to do tomorrow, first thing in the morning. The quicks, keep hitting that top of the stumps length and let the pitch do its thing, mixed with a good bouncer.
“There’s no doubt in my mind the seaming ball is the hardest to play in the game. You have no time to react, you have to play the line and if it goes in it has a chance of hitting the stumps or getting an lbw, or if it goes away there’s a chance of nicking it.
“A couple of our guys have exploited that well on this wicket and if they do it again, hitting the top of off stump with the same length as the Root ball, we could see a lot of lbws and caught behind the wickets.
“That’s the length we’ve been trying to hit to Root, particularly early on in his innings and it’s worked a few times. He’s got out first ball a few times or early a few times with very similar balls.
“That’s the length we’re trying to hit and Patty did it first ball. I’ve no idea if it moved or what but I think it’s the length that’s the most important thing – and that’s a good length.”
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David Warner’s miserable series continued as Stuart Broad removed him for a duck for the second time in the Test but Smith defended the under-fire opener, who has been unable to repeat his stunning Cricket World Cup form.
“It’s been tough with the new ball for both sides,” Smith said. “The ball has done the most when it’s new and when it gets a little softer it doesn’t do as much so it gets a little easier.
“They’ve bowled pretty well with the new ball and I think they have bowlers who are particularly good at bowling to left-handers – Broad and [Jofra] Archer.
“It’s not been easy for Davey and Marcus [Harris] but they’re trying their hardest to counteract it. Their opening bowlers have been too good for the boys early on at the moment but hopefully things can turn around in the next Test match.
“He [Warner] has admitted Broad has had the wood on him this series and he’s been talking to me, Justin [Langer, coach] and Hicky [Graeme, batting coach] about ways he can play. He’s tried a couple of ways and they haven’t worked.
“But Davey is a quality player. He hasn’t had a lot of luck this series and hopefully he can turn it around and get a big one for us at The Oval.”
Of his own performance, extending his faultless run of reaching at least a half-century in the series, Smith added: “When it is tough you want your experienced players to step up. I’ve played quite a lot of cricket now. I like to get in those situations and be the one to take the team through.”