Cricket Expert & Columnist
The Ashes: Australian hopes of series win dismissed by Atherton
Mike Atherton has dismissed Michael Clarke's claim that Australia can win three Tests on the spin.
Last Updated: 31/07/13 3:20pm
Hosts England need only draw the third Test to retain the urn after winning the opening two matches of the series at Trent Bridge and Lord's, while Australia will equal their worst ever run of seven Test defeats in a row if they lose this week's contest at Old Trafford.
Looking ahead to day one on Thursday, the former England captain and Sky Cricket pundit said Clarke's optimism is misplaced.
"I don't think Australia have got what it takes to win the series - there are lots of problems within their team and I think that England are a better side so I think it is going to be very, very difficult for Australia to win three Tests on the bounce," he reflected.
"Alastair Cook, though, always sounds a cautionary note and England remember that Test match in 2009 when they just got a bit ahead of themselves and started to think about the Ashes winning moment before they'd done the hard work; I think they'll want to avoid that trap this time."
Australia could recall David Warner to their starting XI after the batsman - who missed the opening two Tests of the series following a ban for punching England's Joe Root in a bar - struck 193 for Australia A against South Africa A in Pretoria last week.
Warner, 26, has yet to play a Test in England but Atherton believes his positive style of play might just be the catalyst Australia's under-performing top-order needs.
"I think Warner has got a good chance of playing," said Atherton. "He's fresh from scoring 193, all be it in a different country in different conditions, and if they are going to make a change and bring in a player who is aggressive, as Warner is, it seems sensible to do it now while the series is still alive in a technical sense.
"But we don't really know if he will. As Michael Clarke so often says, he's not a selector these days and he hasn't been given the team by the selectors yet, but he must have some say in the decision.
"[Chairman of Selectors] John Inverarity and Rod Marsh have been here and they'll have a look at the pitch and then give Clarke the final XI and he will decide what batting order to go with.
"That's another issue for them. Where does Clarke bat? Do they keep Usman Khawaja at three and does Clarke come in at four or five? There are a lot of issues for Australia to resolve."
While Australia ponder whether to recall spinner Nathan Lyon at the expense of Ashton Agar and debate who should replace the injured Darren Pattinson, England continue to give Kevin Pietersen every opportunity to prove that he is sufficiently recovered from a calf strain to play.
Nottinghamshire's James Taylor has been called into the squad as cover while spinner Monty Panesar and seamer Chris Tremlett have also been named in a 14-man party; of the three players, Atherton thinks Surrey's Tremlett might have the best chance of playing.
"Cook was pretty bullish in his press conference that he thought that Pietersen would play, that it looked good and he'd only miss out if there was a late reaction - which there could be, of course, after training," reflected Atherton.
"But I think, bar that, Pietersen will play. He has been a peripheral presence so far in the series and has a relatively modest record here at Old Trafford and he'll be looking to put those two things right.
"It is forecast to be hot and dry for the first couple of days. Panesar has an excellent record here - he's taken 25 wickets in three games - but I just get the feeling that he won't play and that England will go with the same balance of side.
"Tremlett does have a chance. I haven't seen the pitch but Paul Allott, who has, says it has got quite a bit of grass on it and is quite hard.
"Usually if you are tall here and pacey you get some advantage so England must debate whether to change a winning side.
"Tim Bresnan had a perfectly good game at Lord's and was pretty influential there but I don't think Tremlett is just here to be a pretty face."
Watch the first day of the third Ashes Test between England and Australia live on Sky Sports Ashes from 10am on Thursday and on the Ashes Event Centre, available online and via the Sky Sports app.