All or nothing
Final selection critical in what could be pivotal Test, says Athers
Hauritz has bowled perfectly well but is he a potential match-winner? I think the temptation for Australia to recall Stuart Clark as one of four seamers and let Marcus North do the spinning is too great.
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I genuinely feel that whoever wins the upcoming fourth Test at Headingley will win the Ashes.
That's self-evident in the case of England, given they are 1-0 up with two to play, but I believe it is true too for an Australian side that is looking increasingly upbeat.
Ricky Ponting's side go into this game in as optimistic mood as they have been since coming so close to victory in Cardiff given the confident manner in which they secured a draw on the final day at Edgbaston.
Brett Lee is now pushing his case for inclusion to boot and Mitchell Johnson showed some signs of improvement so their brighter outlook is understandable.
Meanwhile England can feel positive too despite the uncertainty that hangs over the make-up of their side until the fitness or otherwise of Andrew Flintoff is determined.
Given all of the time that was lost to rain, it was a considerable effort for the hosts to get into a position at Edgbaston where they could contemplate victory even if those hopes were comprehensively dashed in the end.
One of the more fascinating aspects of this current series is the flaws and weaknesses of each team.
England look unlikely to take wickets when the ball doesn't swing and when it does Australia's batsmen look vulnerable.
Yet Australia's bowling has scarcely looked capable of taking 20 wickets in the series but they also know that England's middle-order is not necessarily that strong.
It all adds up to a contest between two teams whose skill levels are, in comparison to the sides of 2005, relatively modest but a series that is still very watchable nonetheless because it is so evenly balanced.
There has been plenty of debate over Flintoff's participation in this Test and my own feeling is that he will play. However, should his knee injury flare up overnight, I suspect that his replacement will depend entirely on the conditions on Friday morning.
At the moment it is a bright, sunny day here in Headingley and the pitch looks a good one so if Flintoff is ruled out it would suit England to maintain the balance of their team by bringing in Steve Harmison and promoting Stuart Broad up to seven in the order.
But if it's cloudy on Friday morning then I imagine England must stiffen their batting line-up by handing Jonathan Trott his Test debut - a move which would leave them with just four frontline bowlers.
The selectors must definitely think that Trott is a long-term Test prospect because there are a lot of good contenders vying for that extra batting place - the likes of Owais Shah, Rob Key, Stephen Moore and Joe Denly to name but a few.
But they've been keeping a close eye on Trott and have presumably gone for him because he is in fantastic form. The Warwickshire batsman went on the Lions Tour in the winter and enjoyed it and in my view there's no point in picking a guy just because he is form if you think he can't play down the line.
More immediately, though, there is also a fair argument for playing Flintoff chiefly as a batsman at Headingley in the hope that he can just bowl a few overs here and there. This option, as mentioned before, would also require England to pick a strong bowling quartet.
I can't see Ryan Sidebottom coming into that equation because Graham Onions, James Anderson and the Nottinghamshire bowler are too similar in terms of trajectory - as a captain you would prefer to have the option of someone with a bit more height who can extract bounce out of the pitch.
But if Harmison does come in and Broad is retained then Graeme Swann's position comes into question. All in all, it is a real conundrum for the selectors.
Swann didn't bowl particularly well on the final day at Edgbaston even allowing for the fact that Michael Clarke is one of the best players of spin around and that the pitch was pretty slow.
There was quite a lot of expectation on him after the way he knocked Ponting over in Australia's innings and he appeared to struggle with his length under that pressure.
I think the position of Swann's opposite number, Nathan Hauritz, is definitely under threat.
The Queenslander has bowled perfectly well but is he a potential match-winner? I think the temptation for Australia to recall Stuart Clark as one of four seamers and let Marcus North do the spinning is too great.
That approach is a gamble in two senses; firstly, Clark has not played any cricket in recent weeks although in his defence he is vastly experienced and knows his game inside out.
Secondly if Australia do go in with four seamers and the ball starts to fly about Ponting will have to turn to North to change the pace and there has to be doubt as to whether he's up to the job.
I'm not so sure about Lee returning in place of Peter Siddle as I am about Clark regaining his spot simply because I believe the selectors will be concerned about making too many changes.
But it is feasible for an attack of Clark, Ben Hilfenhaus, Johnson and Lee or Siddle to get 20 wickets at Headingley if the clouds roll in because those conditions will make it tough for anybody.
It all adds up to what should be another fascinating Test. Australia have been chasing the game in the last two and Ponting is only too well aware that the best way to dominate the contest is to get a lot of runs first up and put the other team under pressure.
Then, if the weather holds off, we will see what this England side is really made off.
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Mike Stephenson says...
I do not know what is wrong with the English mentality we seem to try our hardest to loose at everything and now it is cricket. Why on earth do we pick players who are out of form is it because of central contracts if so scrap them. Bopara is playing rubbish he appeared good when playing the West Indies a spent force, Collingwood is not playing anything like his best and Strauss was the worst possible person to make captain he does not have any enthusiasm. In the last test Freddy scored in the seventies with his dodgy legs what did Strauss or Bopara do nothing so scrap central contracts pick the team on merit from the County Championship as is done in Football and the Captain should be selected before each game by the Coach as should be the team not by a bunch of out of touch old men who not so long ago thought that Sir Ian was a reincarnation of the Devil.
Posted 19:16 7th August 2009
James Ryan says...
Would it not have been feasable to include Adel Rashid in the squad at least, with the injury doubt over Flintoff and Swann's lack of form in the last test, Rashid would of given England extra strength down the order and would also give England variation with his leg spin on a pitch that he is obviously familiar with being his home ground
Posted 18:27 6th August 2009
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