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November 30, 2006
Australia are sweating on the fitness of Glenn McGrath ahead of tomorrow's second Test against England at Adelaide. McGrath, who took seven wickets in last week's Gabba Test including 6 for 50 in the first innings, has been struggling with a bruised heel since the mid-point of that first Test. He did not bowl in yesterday's net session and played only a minor part in an optional work-out at the Adelaide Oval this morning, and a decision on his fitness will be deferred until tomorrow morning.
"It is only a blister and you'd pretty much have to amputate his foot to keep him out of this game," insisted Ricky Ponting, but there was no doubting the concern in the Australia camp. In the absence of their injured allrounder Shane Watson, Australia are committed to a four-bowler strategy for a match that traditionally favours the batsmen, and Ponting was adamant that there would be no gambles in their selection.
"We aren't going to be able to go into the Test match [with McGrath] unless he's 100 percent," Ponting said. "It's as simple as that. We have to rely on him getting right through the game at his best. With the team balance, we can't afford to be carrying any bowlers whatsoever. Glenn has to be able to give me what I require of him through the course of the game, and if he can't then a few more questions will be asked."
McGrath was scheduled to have a further net session later in the day, at the request of the team physiotherapist, Alex Kountouris. "It's important that he gets a good bowl in today, and wakes up well tomorrow," said Ponting. "He's aware of that already and the physio's spoken to him. It will be hard to keep him out, but he'll know within himself if he's not right."
England's captain, Andrew Flintoff, dismissed any notion that McGrath's absence would give his side a psychological boost, but the fact remains that in the 2005 Ashes Australia lost both matches that McGrath missed, most notably the corresponding match of the series at Edgbaston. England were again 1-0 down in the series, but when McGrath ricked his ankle on a stray cricket ball on the morning of the match, England's unfettered batsmen cantered to 407 runs in the first day.
McGrath needed two pain-killing injections to get through the Brisbane Test, and Ponting remained optimistic that the problem would be sorted before the toss tomorrow. "Once he'd had an injection at Brisbane he was absolutely pain-free, and me knowing that means there shouldn't be too much interruption at all through the game," he said. "But hopefully he will come up alright today and we won't have to worry about injections
"I don't see why it would get any worse. He's had this callus on his heel for about 15 years of his career. It got worse last year, but he's seen a podiatrist and changed his inner soles and shoes to take the pressure away. We hope he comes through with flying colours today."
Even so, Australia have yet to release either of their reserve seamers, Mitchell Johnson or Shaun Tait, from the 13-man squad. McGrath's absence would be doubly destabilising for Australia given the wayward performance of Brett Lee at Brisbane, something that Ponting attributed to the slippery nature of the popping crease at the Gabba.
"Troy Cooley's had a good session with Brett, working on his run-up and rhythm," said Ponting. "He was forced to go wide of the crease in Brisbane because he couldn't keep his front foot and that was in the back of his mind up there. But did steam in in the nets yesterday, and bowled at a very good pace."
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