Thursday, 30 July 2009

Weather threatens Edgbaston start


Ground staff at Edgbaston have been working through the night in an attempt to get the ground ready for the start of the third Ashes Test.
Torrential rain in the Midlands has soaked the outfield and with further rain forecast for Thursday morning, there could be a delayed start.
The Met Office has predicted a day of sunshine and heavy showers.
England, who lead Australia 1-0 in the series, are confident Andrew Flintoff will be fully fit for the contest.
The Lancastrian has undergone intensive treatment on an ongoing knee problem, but England skipper Andrew Strauss expects the all-rounder to play a full part in the Test.
Australia have lost their aura - Strauss
"Barring any dramatic stuff overnight, he'll be fit," said Strauss.
England will pick from a 12-man squad after spinner Monty Panesar was released.
Wednesday's heavy rain prevented both teams from holding their final practice sessions at the ground, with the sessions moved to an indoor cricket school instead.
More rain is expected on Saturday and Sunday after sunny intervals on Friday.
Australia are expected to keep faith with misfiring bowler Mitchell Johnson.
The paceman, who came into the series with a burgeoning reputation following a series of match-winning displays against South Africa earlier this year, has struggled in the first two Tests.
The left-armer took a total of eight wickets at an average of 41.37 from the Cardiff and Lord's Tests, and was then hammered for 107 runs in 18.1 overs, taking only one wicket, in a tour match against Northamptonshire last week.
But asked if he had considered dropping Johnson, Australia captain Ricky Ponting replied: "No, to tell you the truth.
"There has been a lot of talk about his technique and his action being all over the place. (But) we have had some good close looks at that and it is actually not.
"I think right at the moment it is more of a confidence thing and we will probably use him more as a strike impact type of bowler."
Johnson's form is in stark contrast to Flintoff, who produced a sensational spell of bowling on the fifth morning at Lord's to lead England to a 115-run victory.
The 31-year-old has been sleeping with a special 'Game Ready' compression wrap - designed from NASA spacesuit technology - around his troublesome knee, which helps to remove fluid and reduce inflammation.
And his fitness, proven over two days of intensive workouts leading up to Thursday's start, is a major boost for England following the loss of star batsman Kevin Pietersen to an Achilles injury.
Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell will come into the side as Pietersen's replacement on his home ground, despite a concern earlier this week over a slight ankle problem.
And Strauss is tipping him to return to the side "a better player" since being dropped in February.
I think he's going to be a better batsman for that experience
Strauss on Ian Bell
"A player of the calibre of Ian Bell coming in is very reassuring. He's a proven Test performer, he's played in the Ashes before and he's done that spell out of the side that a lot of us have been through.
"Ian's done a lot of work. We sent him away and it was a pretty bitter pill to swallow. He's done a lot of fitness work, scored a lot of runs for Warwickshire, he's done everything we've asked of him and he's had to dig pretty deep to do that.
"I think he's going to be a better batsman for that experience. It makes you very, very hungry when you come back in."
That means England's only selection issue would appear to be the final pace-bowling spot, with Steve Harmison vying to replace Durham team-mate Graham Onions.
Onions, who took 3-91 at Lord's, has been suffering with a slight hand injury, but is widely expected to get the nod again, despite Harmison being the leading wicket-taker in County Championship division one this season.

Twenty five runs is not what I am after in this game. I'm after a big score
Ricky Ponting
However, England will not name their final starting XI until the morning of the match, with the Edgbaston pitch causing some concern.
Groundsman Steve Rouse described the surface as "jelly" last week, and the outfield was still covered in pools of water on Wednesday, despite warmer weather in recent days helping to dry the Test strip.
"I am actually a bit surprised that the wicket itself is so dry but there's plenty of rain around still," noted Ponting, who believes spin will still have a part to play.
With conditions expected to favour seam bowling, Australia could recall either Shane Watson or Stuart Clark, but are still without Brett Lee, who is recuperating from a side strain which has kept him out of the first two Test matches.
Meanwhile, Ponting has the chance to become his country's highest run-scorer in Test cricket.
The 34-year-old needs only 25 runs to overhaul Allan Border's record tally of 11,174 runs, and averages 56.31 for his country since making his debut against Sri Lanka in Perth during the 1995-96 series.
But he insists he would swap the record for victory at Edgbaston in a heartbeat, saying: "I must admit I haven't thought about it at all. I've got bigger fish to fry than than that right at the moment.
"Twenty five runs is not what I am after in this game. I'm after a big score. I haven't thought about it since the end of the Lord's Test.
"We are looking to get level in this series."
England (from): Strauss (capt), Cook, Bopara, Bell, Collingwood, Prior, Flintoff, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Onions, Harmison

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