Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rain, Rain...Don't Stop The Cricket

We could have it all at Edgbaston. Centuries and five-fors, heroics and disasters, an Aussie resurgence or another bout of England dominance.

What we're probably in for though, is a whole lot of rain and a drawn match.

With a strong history of draws at the venue already, Ricky Ponting isn't getting any better news from the weatherman. There's rain forecast for the next week in Birmingham, and even a hope for an on-schedule start looks optimistic, with groundsmen working through Wednesday night to try and get the pitch dry.
The English won't be too concerned about it, given their position, but the way Andrew Strauss has played since he's become captain you get the feeling he's just really enjoying his cricket.
a 160 in the last match to set up a historic win for his team will certainly leave him feeling good, and tactically speaking - well, whatever people say about his follow-on decisions and declarations, he won the game. A W's a W.
Strauss has told the world that Monty Panesar won't be taking part in the match (one feels Monty might have to settle for his 7 not out in Cardiff as the extent of his Ashes contribution this summer) but is still confident that Andrew Flintoff will be back and ready to play.
Flintoff, who's been sleeping with an ice-pack this last week - never one to avoid controversy - ripped through the Aussies at Lords, and is determined to play out the remainder of the series, even if he never walks again. Backed up by James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the England attack is looking stronger every game.

It's not so simple for Australia. Mitchell Johnson, undoubtedly their best bowler over the last 18 months, has yet to rediscover his form with the ball. A single wicket against Northants last weekend didn't raise anyone's confidence in him at all, but it seems that Australia are going to stand by him, at least until Brett Lee is back on his feet.
Ben Hilfenhaus has bowled beautifully so far, and Peter Siddle has showed guts and determination, but the Aussies need someone else in the pace attack, and hopefully it means that Stuart Clark will get the nod. He bowled well in Northants, taking 4-74 in his 23 overs, and he's the sort of unerringly accurate bowler who could prove a good foil to Hilfenhaus swinging it at the other end.

If Mitch manages to stay in, Nathan Hauritz is favourite to go. He's bowled pretty well on the tour so far, to be fair, but Edgbaston doesn't seem to be the place for spin, particularly if the rain keeps up, and Ponting might be content to rely on his part-timers, Marcus North and Michael Clarke.
That's not to say that North's position isn't under threat as well - Shane Watson and Andrew McDonald both put in strong performances at the weekend, Watson making a couple of quick half centuries and McDonald taking 4 wickets along with a 60 of his own. If they do get a look in, it would probably be Watson, whose batting has looked convincing and who's had a bit more experience. If Hauritz goes, however, North is probably safe and, let's not forget, he had a fantastic unbeaten 125 in Cardiff - he's not in the team for nothing.

Phil Hughes has had a troubled time so far on the tour, and murmurs of Shane Watson partnering Simon Katich at the top of the order might have got him a little twitchy. He did make a 60 at the weekend though, which will probably be enough to keep his place - he's a player with great class, and if he has a little more patience in the first ten overs, we could see him make a really big score.

That seems to be about every possible permutation of the Australian team. Not much needs to be said about Michaels Hussey and Clarke, and no one doubts Ponting's going to hit back hard this match. He's only 25 runs short of beating Allan Border's Australian Test runs record, but you have to feel he'll put a few more on than that.
Brad Haddin is in superb form with the bat, and don't think he'll let those few blips behind the stumps deter him - he's always a fighter.

The biggest change for England is obviously that Ian Bell will be taking Kevin Pietersen's place. Aside from a duck and a 7 in his last outing, he's been scoring very solidly this summer, and he's told the press he's confident of a good game. On the other hand, it's almost cruel how much the Australians are looking forward to playing him. They've figured him out in the past, and if he wants to try and get his place back he'll have to try something new. He's got a history of playing fluently to get to 30 or 40, and then giving away his wicket.

Strauss seems to have been trying to stir up the Aussies in his interviews, suggesting that their "aura" is gone (pretty mystic stuff for a tough lad like him) - you get the feeling that Ponting, Clarke and the boys are just lapping it up - they love a challenge.

The first two tests have been reminders of what a great game Test cricket is, in these days of Twenty20 and Stanford Challenges (oops). England are deservedly 1-0 up in the series, but it would be a huge disappointment to have a rain-forced draw here. With the Aussies riled, and England nervously looking a couple of rungs below them on a tottery ladder they're not used to climbing, we could be in for one hell of a match.

So please don't rain.

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