Pressure grows as urn comes into view
Match factsFriday, August 7 - Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Start time 11.00 (10.00 GMT)
Big PictureThe 1-0 advantage established by England at Lord's looks all the more intimidating after the rain-effected draw at Edgbaston. Should the hosts go forth and reclaim the urn, Andrew Flintoff's heroic effort in north-west London - in which he claimed five Australian wickets on a painful right knee - will ascend to a pantheon of national sporting achievements currently occupied by Geoff Hurst's hat-trick and Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal.
Flintoff has dominated the headlines again this week, albeit for reasons he could have done without. The ailing all-rounder's knee injury continues to cause him discomfort, and has prompted England to name an expanded squad in the event he is deemed unfit to play the fourth Test. Australia have their own injury concerns, with Michael Clarke sitting out Wednesday's training session with a mild abdominal strain and Brad Haddin nursing a broken finger. On the positive side of the ledger, Brett Lee is available for selection for the first time this series, having recovered from a rib complaint.
England will be looking to the heavens in the hope of spotting the kind of heavy clouds that so assisted James Anderson and Graham Onions in the first innings at Birmingham. Andrew Strauss' attack have appeared toothless when the ball hasn't swung this series, and with the five-day weather forecast improving, Australia's batsmen will be hoping for clear skies to complement a flat Headingley pitch.
The Australians must win both the remaining Test matches in the series to remain atop the Test rankings.
Form guide(last five matches, most recent first)
England - DWDWW
Australia - DLDLW
Watch out forAndrew Flintoff The will he-won't he saga is likely to drag on until the coin toss on Friday, but even if Flintoff doesn't play, his presence will be felt throughout the match. The versatility of Flintoff has been highlighted by England's move to effectively name three replacements for him. Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison could slot in should England require a fast bowling option, while Jonathan Trott could make his Test debut if an extra batsman is needed.
Ben Hilfenhaus By far and away Australia's best bowler in the series, Hilfenhaus will again be heavily relied upon if the clouds roll in at Headingley. Mitchell Johnson's improving fortunes at Edgbaston have provided hope that Hilfenhaus will no longer bare all containment and pressure-building responsibilities, as has been the case thus far in the series.
Team newsIt all comes down to Flintoff. Should the enigmatic all-rounder be deemed fit, England are favoured to ignore calls for Stuart Broad's axing and retain the same line-up from Edgbaston. If he is ruled out, selectors must decide between Sidebottom, Harmison and Trott, although none will provide Flintoff's all-round balance. Shortly after practice, Trott was spotted decked out in his full England kit, complete with embroidered initials and cap number, on his way for an official squad photo.
England (possible) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Ravi Bopara, 4 Ian Bell, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Matt Prior (wk), 7 Stuart Broad, 8 Graeme Swann, 9 James Anderson, 10 Graham Onions., 11 Steve Harmison
Injuries have also blighted Australia's build-up to the fourth Test. Michael Clarke missed Wednesday's training session with an abdominal strain, but is considered likely to play. The most complex scenario, as ever, concerns the fast bowling group. Ponting hinted after the Edgbaston Test that Siddle's profligacy could bode well for Stuart Clark or Brett Lee, and both senior pacemen looked solid during Wednesday's net session. Clark should have the front-running given his strong recent form in Australia's tour matches, while Lee has not played a game since the England Lions encounter prior to the first Test
Australia 1 Simon Katich, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Hussey, 5 Michael Clarke, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz, 10 Ben Hilfenhaus, 11 Stuart Clark.
Pitch and conditionsWeather forecasts for Leeds have improved markedly this week, and with them the prospects of a full five day's play. The Headingley pitch, once considered paradise for the pacemen, has tilted in favour of batsmen in recent seasons although, if the heavy clouds roll in, the likes of Anderson and Hilfenhaus could play havoc.
Stats and trivia
- If history is to be any guide, this promises to be a keenly contested Test. Australia's record at Headingley stands at eight wins, seven losses and eight draws, while England have won 30, lost 21 and drawn 17. England recorded a six-wicket victory in the last Ashes Test played here in 2001.
- Yorkshire have played four first class matches at Headingley this year, three of which resulted in draws.
- Australia are winless in their past four Tests. Not since 1988 has an Australian side gone five consecutive matches without a victory.
- Ricky Ponting slipped to ninth in the Test batting rankings this week, but returns to a ground at which he has enjoyed tremendous success Ponting has scored 343 runs at 114.33 in two matches at Headingley, including two centuries.
"It's the fourth Test of an Ashes series, we're close to the finish line and although we're all desperate for (Flintoff) to play, we need to be realistic enough to realise that if he's not fit then he shouldn't play."
"If I actually play well I get booed more so hopefully I get booed more. It comes with the territory of being an Australian cricket captain in this part of the world. There's not much I can do about it. I'll just take it with a grain of salt. I've almost expected it after the first day at Lord's. It's no skin off my nose. If anything it just makes me more determined to play well."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo