England v Australia, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston July 29, 2009

Weather adds to Australia's problems

Match facts

Thursday, July 30 - Monday, August 3, 2009
Start time 11.00 (10.00 GMT)

Big Picture

England 1-0 up, Australia facing a selection conundrum, key injuries to both sides. By rights, this should be an epic, filled with the kind of outrageous twists and sub-plots we have come to expect from Ashes series, but predictions of inclement weather and a benign pitch have installed the draw as the most likely result. An anti-climactic sequel to England's historic victory at Lord's is in the offing.

Australia will be desperate to avoid a repeat of 2005, in which they entered the home stretch in arrears of England, but short of a Herculean bowling performance a result will be difficult to enforce if, as is expected, substantial periods of the match are lost to rain. To be any chance, Australia will presumably need Mitchell Johnson to rediscover the radar conspicuously absent on this tour to date.

England, meanwhile, will be praying Andrew Flintoff's pin cushion of a right knee is able to withstand the rigours of bowling on a heavy Edgbaston playing surface. Flintoff has been applying an ice machine to his knee each night to help alleviate the after-effects of his mighty bowling performance at Lord's, and is confident of playing a full part in the match. The all-rounder has fond memories of Edgbaston, having led England to a gripping two-run victory over the Australians four years ago with a virtuoso performance that included thunderous innings of 68 and 73, and seven wickets.

Form guide

(last five matches, most recent first)

England - WDWWD
Australia - LDLWW

Watch out for…

Ian Bell The much-maligned Warwickshire batsman will make his Test comeback at his home ground as a replacement for the injured Kevin Pietersen. Bell has in the past struggled when cast in the substantial shadow of Pietersen, but with England's svengali batsman recovering from Achilles surgery, he now has a prime opportunity to forge his own name and exorcise his Ashes demons in a Warne-free environment.

Mitchell Johnson Acres of column space have been devoted to the issue of Johnson's dire form since the Lord's Test, but no one - least of all the Australians - has uncovered a solution to this most vexing of problems. Lowering arm height, fragile confidence and a delicate family situation have all contributed to his decline, which continued through the recent tour match against Northamptonshire. Despite his diminishing form and confidence, Johnson seems set to get the nod for Edgbaston, albeit in the redefined role of first-change bowler.

Team news

England will most likely resist the temptation to call in Steve Harmison, who played a leading role in the only first class win recorded at Edgbaston this year, and stick with their attack from Lord's. Bell's inclusion for the injured Pietersen should be the only change. Monty Panesar has been deemed surplus to needs in Birmingham and released back to Northamptonshire.

England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Graham Onions.

The Australians are considering shoe-horning the dependable and precise Stuart Clark into the starting XI, but exactly which bowler - if any - will make way remains uncertain. The heavy weather will presumably not assist Nathan Hauritz's chance of playing - despite being the equal-leading wicket-taker in the series - and Peter Siddle might also find himself in the firing line. Still, the odds of Australia naming an unchanged line-up is firming.

Australia (possible) 1 Simon Katich, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Peter Siddle, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Stuart Clark.

Pitch and conditions

Steve Rouse, the Edgbaston groundsman, is among the many who believe a result will be difficult to achieve over the next five days. Heavy rain drenched the West Midlands on Wednesday, and is expected to continue for several days yet. When play does commence, Rouse is expecting another low, slow surface which should suit England's batsmen down to the sodden ground.

Stats and trivia

  • Only four wins have been achieved at Edgbaston from the last 20 first class matches played there. Durham is the only team to have won a match at the ground this year, and did so on the back of Graham Onions and Steve Harmison taking a combined 16 wickets.

  • Results are more common in Test matches at Edgbaston. Of the last 17 Tests played at the ground, only three have been draws.

  • Australia's record at Edgbaston stands at three wins, five losses and four draws, making this one of their least favourite grounds in England. By contrast, England have won won 22 and lost eight of their 43 games - their best Test record at any ground in the country.

  • Ponting needs 25 runs to overtake Allan Border's Australian record of 11,174 Test runs

For a full stats preview click here.

Quotes

"I think right at the moment it is more of a confidence thing and (we will) probably look at him in this game playing in a slightly different way than in the last couple of games and use him more as a strike impact type of bowler."
Ricky Ponting on Mitchell Johnson

"It's not much fun when you are out of it but it makes you very, very hungry when you come back in. And also, you get a kind of mindset of having nothing to lose. You've been out of the side, this is another opportunity for you and I expect him to grasp that with two hands and play some really good innings in the coming matches."
Andrew Strauss on Ian Bell

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo