It's time to strike
Pressure on both sides to perform in pivotal Test, says Athers
Ponting was booed as he came up to the podium at Lord's. That's wrong because he's one of the greatest players of the modern era.
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It's absolutely hosing down here in Edgbaston, which is to nobody's advantage.
The momentum is with England and they will want to strike decisively before Brett Lee returns from injury and Mitchell Johnson rediscovers his game, while Australia need to play well after falling 1-0 behind at Lord's.
The water table is very high in this area and the forecast is poor so we may not get a lot of cricket over the next few days but if we do then it should be a close contest and, if we're lucky, another thrilling match just like 2005.
My abiding memory of that fantastic game was sitting in the commentary box on the last morning as Australia edged towards their target.
As a commentator I rarely get caught up in events - excited, yes, but not caught up in events - but I remember prancing around very nervously that day; it was almost as though I was playing the game so the relief when England won was great.
The mood around the current England camp remains confident despite the inevitable loss of Kevin Pietersen to the Achilles injury that was distracting him in the second Test.
Andrew Strauss was in bullish mood at Wednesday's pre-match press conference and with good reason; it is clear Australia's attack has problems so now is a good time to press home the advantage.
This is a pivotal Test in the series because there is not much time to recover after this one - particularly if you are Australia.
But the England captain was right to sound a note of caution over his side's batting and emphasise the need for players to go big after getting in; it's simply not good enough to go from 196-0 to 425 all out, as the hosts did in their first innings at the Home of Cricket.
The Australians feel that England's top order is an area that they can pinpoint and attack.
With Ravi Bopara struggling for runs, Ian Bell just coming back and Matt Prior batting at six there is a lot of pressure on Strauss and Alastair Cook to get England off to a good start.
If Australia can get a breakthrough with the new ball they will fancy their chances of getting stuck into England's batting line-up - which one of the reasons I don't think Johnson will get his hands on the new cherry even if he does play.
It makes sense for Bell to return to the batting line-up at four because it causes the least disruption to England's line-up; he can just slip in as a replacement for Pietersen.
I thought the Warwickshire right-hander played pretty well against Australia in the 2006/07 Ashes; he didn't go on and get big returns but he performed a lot better than he did in 2005.
Since he was dropped from the England side he hasn't done anything differently, he's just determined to get as many runs as he can. Technically there aren't any problems with his game so it's just a matter of cashing in once he's in.
As Strauss himself has proved it often benefits a player to step out of the team and spend a bit of time away; you think about what you're missing and it makes you more determined to make full use of the opportunity when you come back.
Bopara deserves another chance at three despite a couple of modest games because before that he scored three hundreds in consecutive matches. If we are expecting our players to get a hundred in every game then we are putting too much pressure on them.
The problem is not so much the fact that Bopara hasn't got runs but the fact he's looked a bit skittish and nervy at the crease; he seems to have played quite chancily.
At Edgbaston I'd like to see him play a proper innings at No 3, to look tight as he gets in against the new ball and then be aggressive. It's the tempo of his innings that is important.
England can't afford to protect Bopara and the same goes for Andrew Flintoff. The all-rounder has got three games left for England and England must use him as best they can.
If he is declared fit for this Test, as expected, the all-rounder should share the new ball with James Anderson and launch himself at Australia's top-order.
I'm not suggesting Strauss should bowl Flintoff in 10-over spells - no captain would do that to any bowler unless the game is there to be won as it was at Lord's - but he shouldn't wrap him in cotton wool either.
It is going to be hard work for all the bowlers on what will be a soft pitch and, given all of the rain we've had, I think England should stick with Graham Onions rather than recall Steve Harmison.
Onions bowled well at Edgbaston earlier in the season and he's part of a winning team - he didn't do a lot right, but he didn't do a lot wrong at Lord's - and therefore I don't see the point in changing. Instead, the selectors should keep Harmison up their sleeves for Headingley - the second of the back-to-back Tests - and unleash him there if the pitch looks like it could suit him.
Strauss' opposite number Ricky Ponting has several concerns but I thought he spoke well about the problems facing the wayward Johnson.
Australia have got to keep it simple with the left-armer. They've got to let him find his own way and not put too much pressure on him.
If Mitchell does play I think he would be more comfortable with the old ball, particularly to Strauss and Cook, two left-handers who got off to a flyer last time.
Of course, Australia could select Stuart Clark over Peter Siddle but it wouldn't surprise me if the tourists were unchanged because that's the nature of the beast - they don't tend to panic.
Ponting needs just 25 runs to surpass Allan Border's Test run tally of 11,174 which makes the manner in which he has been treated at times this summer all the harder to understand. I would go as far as to say that at times it has been out of order.
A lot of the stick the Australian skipper has received has been good-natured banter and that's fine but I think he has been unfairly treated in the media at times.
To my mind he is a pretty honest character who deserves better. He's given straight-forward answers to questions only to find some of his comments blown up out of all proportion and then he was booed as he came up to the podium at Lord's. That's wrong because he's one of the greatest players of the modern era.
He's a very different player to Border, who was much more nuggety in the middle order. Ponting is much more assertive and has maintained those aggressive instincts right through his career.
To score 38 hundreds is a staggering achievement in Test match cricket and one that is worthy of greater recognition.
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Lynne Lee says...
l dont think England are a mediocre side, nor wishy washy in batting or bowling, they were a good side who beat the oz when michael vaughan was captain, with his long abscense through injury took a terrible dive and played badly in ashes and world cup. Since then they have been building up, a few hiccups along the way, now more settled with Struass leading from the front as captain and batsman, peiterson should get better, no outstanding bowler, but a good team who have got oz out for a modest total, again with a good all round batting team, pity that Flintoff cant remain in test cricket, great loss to team. Ok oz are not as strong a team as they were, bowling in particular, but still a team to be reckoned with. You must be watching different tests to others, sides evenly matched producing good exciting cricket. Good luck to the bowlers tomorrow, and the bats after weather permitting.
Posted 21:01 2nd August 2009
Martin Smith says...
when I was a small boy, we used to marvel at the idea of Larwood bowling at 90 mph. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to achieve this and certainly pretty well all of the pace bowlers in this match do. Is the method of measurement making the comparison unfair? Anyway, how did they measure it in Larwood's day?
Posted 16:26 31st July 2009
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