Race against time for opening day
Several members of Edgbaston's groundstaff will work on the water-logged outfield through the night, but have privately conceded there is little chance of play on Thursday. Steve Rouse, the head groundsman, appeared to be fighting a losing battle aboard one of the four super-soppers in operation on the playing surface on Wednesday as rain continued to threaten the third Ashes Test.
The main problem area is the outfield, which as of Wednesday varied from spongy under foot to submerged. Surface water was evident on large portions of the areas directly beneath the Eric Hollies Stand and the pavilion, and with water tables in Birmingham already high after a wet July, groundstaff all but conceded to Cricinfo that day one of the Test would be washed out.
Rouse began work on the Edgbaston playing surface at 5.30am on Wednesday, but could not negate the various downpours throughout the day. Weather forecasts are suggesting the groundstaff could be offered some respite on Thursday and Friday, however with the outfield posing a safety hazard for players in its current, marshy state, staff fear that even a day of sunshine will not save the first day's play.
But they will not give up without a fight. A handful of groundsmen will be held back overnight to work on the ground whenever weather permits, although with Edgbaston considered among the poorer draining Test grounds in the country, optimism was thin on the ground. "You can't beat the weather," one remarked.
Of some consolation to the Edgbaston staff is that the pitch has reportedly remained dry under the hover-cover. Ricky Ponting remarked that he had been surprised at the lack of moisture in the strip when he inspected it on Tuesday, and groundsmen were confident that, when the covers are finally lifted, the centre square will be in reasonable condition.
Rouse declined to comment on the state of the playing surface on Wednesday - "I've got my hands full at the moment" - but told Cricinfo the previous day he feared rain would disrupt the third Test. "The weather is looking pretty grim for the next five or six days," he said. "It's going to be very hard work by the sounds of it."
Sunny periods have been predicted for the first two days of the Test, with showers forecast for the weekend. The odds of either team forcing a result in the match appear slim at this point, potentially leaving Australia in the unenviable position of entering the final two Tests of the series a game in arrears of England.
Both teams were forced to train at Warwickshire's indoor nets centre on Wednesday, and Ponting stated that his side's disrupted preparation was posing more of a concern than the form woes of several of his key players. "I'm a bit more worried about the weather more than anything else, to tell you the truth," Ponting said. "It's been pretty ordinary the last couple of days and it's probably hindered our training and preparation a little bit."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo