Bell optimistic on dusty pitch
An unfamiliar and subcontinent-style pitch has revived England's hopes of capturing the Ashes despite the hosts falling away after a useful start to the deciding Ashes Test. In the lead-up to the game Surrey said they would not be influenced into producing a result wicket, but instead of a surface offering the usual carry - and the heavy prospect of a draw - the dusty strip is already turning and a handful of balls have broken through the surface.
The conditions at The Oval have convinced both teams that this encounter won't end in a stalemate and Ian Bell, England's top scorer with 72, was unusually upbeat after England reached 307 for 8. "After day one it's 50-50," he said. "The pitch is so dry, and that's a good thing for us. If we get a lead and bat well in the second dig, it won't be easy to bat last on." Australia will have that task to determine which side lifts the replica urn on Monday.
The surface and Australia's field settings reminded Bell of the subcontinent and the conditions suit the aims of England, who must win to break the deadlock and take the trophy. "This feels like a day three wicket, so I'd be interested to see how this game unfolds, whether it deteriorates, or whether it carries on being pretty good," Bell said. "We'd prefer a result wicket and this looks like it's going to be."
England began well and were 176 for 2 before Paul Collingwood's dismissal sparked a series of costly loose shots, but Bell said the conditions were tougher than they looked from the stands. Those expecting a free-flowing day instead sat through some tough sessions when the advantage swung.
"I guess with the starts we've had we could be in a slightly better position than we are, but it was quite a hard day," Bell said. "It didn't feel like your typical Oval pitch where you get your pace and bounce - it was slow and felt quite frustrating at times to actually time the ball."
Australia may regret not picking a specialist slow bowler after preferring Stuart Clark to Nathan Hauritz and then watching Marcus North gain useful turn through 14 overs. England stuck with one spinner in Graeme Swann, leaving out Monty Panesar, and Bell was surprised Australia went with four pace specialists.
However, Peter Siddle, who led Australia with 4 for 63, maintains spin will not play a major part and Australia made the correct selection decision. "I don't think it's deteriorating, it's still a good wicket," he said. "It's still a nice wicket to bowl on, it's going to stay pretty solid and will be a pretty good batting wicket over the next two or three days. I don't think spin will be a massive part of it. When all four quicks stuck together and bowled to the partnership we had success."
Siddle did agree with Bell that the match won't end in a draw. "There's definitely going to be a result, that's for sure," he said. "The way both teams have played this series, it's been attacking, it's been aggressive, and that's what we're looking for."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo