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Peter English at the WACA
December 15, 2010
Australia are considering unleashing four specialist fast bowlers to soften up England, but first Ricky Ponting has to be convinced the WACA surface will not trick him again. Ponting delayed naming his XI for Thursday's crucial third Ashes Test until he has a final look at the pitch, which is much greener than usual.
Ponting has misread this wicket before, most notably against India in 2007-08 when it looked fast but played low and slow, and had a rare discussion with the groundsman Cam Sutherland today. If Australia go with the pace quartet of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus they will be flooded with options. Shane Watson's availability actually makes a speed quintet possible, while the legspinner Steven Smith is also on call.
The chances of Michael Beer, the left-arm orthodox spinner, making his debut have reduced slightly, although the hosts could quickly revert to a more traditional attack if the pitch dries out before the toss. To level the series 1-1 Australia require 20 wickets, four more than they have managed in the first two Tests.
The WACA used to be a fast-bowling Mecca and every time teams come here they expect short-pitch tactics to stir up their opponents. Australia are preparing an attempt to bounce England's top order and deliver some discomfort to the tourists, who have dominated since being dismissed for 260 on the opening day of the series. "I honestly feel the pitch conditions here are as foreign to English players as probably anywhere else in the world and hopefully we can exploit that this week," Ponting said.
It is impossible to understate the importance of this game for Australia. If they lose England will retain the Ashes and Ponting's captaincy and playing future will be on the line. He usually announces his side the day before the game but will toss and turn for another night before deciding what to do.
Western Australia, the local state side, have also been confused by the surface, which although it looks green is not always conducive to seam. Ponting is unsure whether it will play as it looks. "There's a chance of that and that's probably due to the different type of grass that's on it at the moment," he said. "It's not the thicker, coarse grass that was on the wicket the last couple of years, it's a finer leaf sort of grass.
"When you've got wickets like that the ball tends to skip off that grass rather than holding on it. That's why it's important to get a good feel of it tomorrow morning and see how hard it is, and whether there's any moisture left in the surface before we make our decision."
Hilfenhaus and Harris will be used as into-the-wind bowlers while Johnson, who has been trying to rebuild his action over the past week, will be able to charge in with the breeze. Siddle is another who will enjoy having the wind at his back if he is selected. Both Hilfenhaus and Johnson didn't bowl in the nets during the final practice session in preparation for their returns after being dropped for the Adelaide game.
Whether Siddle, who hasn't take a wicket since his six on the opening day in Brisbane, or Beer fits in is still to be determined. Ponting said Beer's inexperience would not be a factor in deciding the line-up.
"It's more so we can get the best four bowlers for us on that wicket, it's as simple as that," he said. "The fact that Michael is a debutant doesn't come into it. If he's in our four best bowlers for the wicket we see tomorrow then he'll play."
Spinners have been successful over the latter stages of Shield games in Perth this season and Ponting planned to have lunch with Beer to talk tactics. Australia have Smith to bat at No.6 and bowl as well, but the team management seems confused by all the potential options.
If he plays, Beer will be heavily involved in the second half of the game, while an extra paceman will be expected to cause more problems in the first innings. Ponting has too much to think about but must be wary about over-stocking his pace department on a surface that has bitten him before.
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