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November 12, 2013
Kevin Pietersen has been passed fit to play England's final warm-up match against an Invitational XI in Sydney following the cortisone injection he received to his right knee on Sunday.
Pietersen has only faced 10 deliveries in competitive cricket on the tour so far having sat out the opening match in Perth before falling lbw to Trent Copeland against Australia A. Even though he has rarely been a player to put huge value in warm-up matches - and particularly the runs scored - it is certainly a meagre volume of time to have spent in the middle before the first Test of an Ashes series.
He and the rest of the England team were forced to train indoors again at the SCG on Tuesday as the rain, which has hampered their preparations, continued to linger over Sydney although the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is much improved.
However, England's opposition is getting weaker after batsman Adam Voges and left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe were withdrawn from the side. Voges is suffering from a back problem while O'Keefe has been added to the New South Wales squad for their Sheffield Shield match.
Neither will England be at full strength with Matt Prior ruled out due to the calf strain he suffered against Australia A and which has left him doubtful for the first Test. Jonny Baristow will take his place and could yet find himself back in the heat of Test match battle after seemingly being left with endless 12th man duties.
Michael Clarke, relaxed and in good humour as Australia named their 12-man squad for the Gabba, used his press conference to 'announce' the England team saying he was convinced about the XI that will take the field. He listed the top seven including Michael Carberry as opener and Joe Root at No. 6, picked Prior (so the Australian captain is clearly confident over his fitness) and named Chris Tremlett as the third seamer.
"Now he [Cook] doesn't exactly know that yet but I know that's the eleven that is going to take the field in the first test so we can start our preparations as of today," Clarke said with a big grin. "I'm very confident that will be the eleven that England will play."
There is a good chance he will be proved correct about Tremlett after he faced Australia A while both Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin were left out. One chance could remain, most likely for Finn, to stake a last-minute claim for selection if England opt to rest James Anderson who has been the most impressive of the quicks in the build-up.
Three years ago Finn was a certain starter in the opening Test and took 6 for 125 in first innings before being dropped after the Perth Test which ended a run of 11 Tests. Since then he has appeared 12 times during what is becoming a stop-start career.
He was wayward against the Western Australian XI, conceding more than five runs an over through the match, and admitted it had left him playing catch up if he wanted to reclaim the Test place he lost after the opening Test of the series in England earlier this year.
"Perth wasn't ideal for me; I didn't bowl particularly well. But I thought I got better as the game went on," he said. "I've had some good nets since then. It's just about transferring that into the middle.''
"Going at five an over, still, in the second innings wasn't great. "That wasn't ideal for me. But I've put that under the carpet now; I've moved on and hope I've learned from that. I'm still a little bit of a way off. The proof of the pudding will be performances in the middle."
Possible England XI 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Michael Carberry, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Joe Root, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 Steven Finn
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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