North aims for consistency
Marcus North wants his vital 96 on the final day at Edgbaston to be the innings that kick-starts a run of consistency and eliminates all doubt over his position at No. 6. Despite North scoring two centuries in his opening four Tests, there were whispers last week that he could make way for Shane Watson to help the team's balance, but he was rightly retained and played a key part in the draw that kept Australia in the series.
The tourists, who must win the final two games to hold their No. 1 Test rating, travel to Leeds on Tuesday and are desperate to level the contest at 1-1, although they will face more familiar obstacles. Rain is forecast throughout the Test and there are concerns the fourth match could follow the same pattern as the third, which lost almost two days to the weather. The overcast conditions will also encourage the seamers and the Australians have already shown their fragility against the moving ball.
They sailed from the safety of 126 for 1 on the opening day in Birmingham to being all-out for 263 after James Anderson and Graham Onions ran through them. "It's not the first time we've faced the swinging ball, it's just one of those innings," North said. "We'll work this week [on it for] the Test at Headingley [on Friday]. It does swing around a bit when it gets overcast there. It's about us being a bit more disciplined in the way we are batting."
At Edgbaston North was incredibly focussed in the second innings when he and Michael Clarke, who was unbeaten on 103, saved the game during a 183-run stand. England started the day with thoughts of winning but North and Clarke only looked in danger when the result had been determined. North started expanding his game towards the end of the day and was caught athletically by James Anderson in the gully when trying to slice through gully to bring up his century.
"I'm very disappointed not to get those four runs, but very satisfied with that partnership with Clarkey," he said. "To see the day off and walk away with a pretty positive result."
North's performance continued a pattern in his Test career where he either scores heavily or lightly. After starting with 117 on debut in Johannesburg he followed up with 5, 38 and 0 in his other innings against South Africa before producing 125 not out in Cardiff, 0 and 6 at Lord's and 12 and 96 at Edgbaston. During his domestic career he has also experienced similar variations and when Tom Moody returned from Sri Lanka to coach Western Australia he had a long discussion with North over his sometimes casual attitude.
"Give me a chance, it's only my fifth Test," North said. "Hopefully I can change that around in the next couple of Tests and get a bit more consistent. It's something I'm always trying to work on, making sure there's always some middle ground there. It's consistency, but I'm pretty pleased with the way I've started Test cricket."
North was also happy with the character shown by the team in securing the draw and wants to take the momentum gained from a strong finish into the match into Leeds. "I have no doubt England went out there believing they could win that game," he said. "We were four down with a lead of 200 and building, we played some very good cricket in this Test. Yesterday, hopefully, was a pretty important day of test cricket for the Australian team."
Despite their position, North said the side was very confident of taking the series. "If we play our best cricket we walk away winning Tests against any opponent," he said. "We take away with us a lot of momentum and character and fight out of this Test, and hopefully that can set us up for the remaining two Tests."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo