The current Ashes series is tied at 1-1 with two games to play. England’s win in the Third Test at Headingley last month kept the series alive and has put cricket back on the front pages of all the papers here in the UK. If Australia had won, they would have retained the Ashes.
Much has been written about man of the match Ben Stokes and particularly his unbeaten hundred in the second innings. His achievements are understandably being compared with those of Ian Botham in 1981 and Andrew Flintoff in 2005. Many more thousands of words will be written about him if his performances contribute to England regaining the Ashes between now and mid-September. Not so much has been written about the players’ surnames, the subject of some idle speculation in this piece from last month. It dealt with the players whose surnames are regular English words, the kind that you’ll find in a dictionary or are allowable in Scrabble. Now, on the eve of the Fourth Test from Old Trafford, I return to the theme
So far in this series the teams’ fortunes have coincided with the number of players whose surnames are allowable in Scrabble. In the First Test Australia had five (Warner, Smith, Head, Wade, Cummins) to England’s four (Burns, Root, Stokes, Broad) and won the game.
For the Second Test at Lord’s England replaced Jimmy Anderson and Moeen Ali (whose surnames are not allowable in Scrabble) with Jack Leach and Jofra Archer (whose surnames are). Australia had the same five as in the First Test and lost one of them (Smith) during the game to concussion. The surname of his replacement for the second innings, Labuschagne, will not be found in any English dictionary. With their 6-4 advantage in terms of surnames as regular words, England finished the match strongly. They might even have won if the weather hadn’t played its part. Nearly two days’ play were lost to rain and the game was drawn.
For the Third Test at Headingley, England were unchanged and fielded the same six players whose surnames are allowable in Scrabble (Burns, Root, Stokes, Broad, Archer, Leach). Australia replaced Smith with Labuschagne. This gave England the same 6-4 surname advantage that they had for the second half of the Lord’s Test and this time it was just enough to get them over the line. Three of the players who might have been disappointed with their performances have surnames that are not in the dictionary: Roy, Buttler, Woakes.
Various cricket pundits, including Bob Willis here, have suggested replacing Jason Roy with Ollie Pope for the next match. Pope has been in good form for Surrey this summer and was called up as cover in the Third Test. If selected, he would provide England with a seventh surname allowable in Scrabble, but it looks like Roy will keep his place and move down the order, with Joe Denly opening the batting. Australia will have Smith back for the Fourth Test, so they will be back to five regular words as surnames. The latest news is that Khawaja will be left out and Starc will come in. Like his team-mates Lyon and Paine, and England’s Buttler, Mitchell Starc’s surname is not allowable in Scrabble, but is a homophone for a word that is.
Will England’s 6-5 advantage in terms of surnames allowable in Scrabble be enough for victory at Old Trafford? Time will tell. To be on the safe side, maybe they should have selected Pope instead of Roy, and for good measure they could spell Buttler’s surname with only one ‘T’ to give the team an 8-5 advantage. It could make all the difference.