Australia face difficult task forcing a result
Weather and pitch conditions could conspire against the Australians in their quest for a series-levelling victory at Edgbaston. Rain is forecast for the West Midlands for each of the next four days, with particularly heavy storms predicted for Wednesday, the eve of the third Ashes Test, and Thursday. And even if the players do make it onto the field for extended periods, recent history suggests Ricky Ponting's men could find it difficult to force their way back into the series on a pitch that has played host to 16 draws from its past 20 first-class matches.
Only once this season has a county team achieved victory in Birmingham, and then only on account of a sublime fast-bowling performance from Graham Onions and Steve Harmison. The Durham pacemen, both of whom have been named in England's 13-man squad for the third Ashes Test, claimed a combined 16 wickets to lead Durham to a win over Warwickshire in June. However, the six other first-class matches played at the ground this year have resulted in draws.
One of those matches, England's pre-Ashes warm-up match against Warwickshire, was a rare bright point for seamers at Edgbaston. James Anderson took full advantage of the green-tinged pitch to claim five first innings wickets, but his efforts were not enough to force a result in the three-day contest.
Despite his recent success at Edgbaston, Anderson was expecting a benign Test strip. "It's generally quite slow and low and I'm guessing it will be similar to Cardiff, which isn't great from an entertainment point of view or a bowler's point of view," Anderson said. "To be honest, Test pitches around the world are getting pretty similar. As bowlers we're quite used to it and just have to try and work out how to get 20 wickets on these sort of pitches."
Ravi Bopara was another to have excelled during England's warm-up match against Warwickshire, scoring 43 and 104 retired, and he too predicted a gruelling match against the Australians.
"It might be," Bopara said. "But that's where a good spinner comes in to bowl a lot of overs and produce some good spells where he takes a wicket or two to break up partnerships. I think Hauritz has bowled really well. He started off the tour really well. We certainly don't underestimate him. Again, our boys have had recent success as well. Swann's bowled well against West Indies and Monty Panesar is back on the scene as well. Facing him in the nets, he's been top drawer. It's probably going to be one of those toils ... and go down to the wire."
The Australians, however, are taking nothing for granted regarding the Edgbaston surface, having famously been duped into bowling first at the ground four years ago in a match England won by two runs. Despite recent comments from Steve Rouse, the Edgbaston curator, stating that recent rain had left the pitch "like jelly", Tim Nielsen, the Australia coach, said his side would reserve judgment on the make-up of their bowling attack until they had closely inspected the surface first-hand.
"We'll have a look at the conditions when we get to Edgbaston and work it out," Nielsen said. "We're hearing that the wicket isn't very progressed in its preparation. We'll have a look at what the weather is doing."
Local bookmakers have installed the draw as the most likely result in the match.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo