Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Edgbaston - final preview

Plenty of predictions are being made about Thursday's Edgbaston Test - that there will be problems starting the game (because of a water-logged outfield), problems continuing it (because of the rain forecast) and problems bringing it to a positive conclusion (because the pitch is a bowler's graveyard) - but, after the vast swing in the sides' fortunes between Cardiff and Lord's, it is impossible to know what next to expect this Ashes summer.

My feeling at both Cardiff and Lord's was that England's batting was careless and vulnerable, but they have topped 400 in each 1st innings: no disaster. And one change to a bowling attack that had struggled to take 6 wickets in 180 overs at Cardiff enabled them to take all 20 in 170 at Lord's. Sure, the overcast conditions helped Anderson to swing the ball in the 1st innings but Hughes, Haddin, Johnson, Katich and North all fell to attempted hooks and pulls. A strange series, then, so far.

In my book, the toss is a crucial one: if Ponting, a bad 'Punter' at Cardiff and Lord's, can make it 3rd time lucky and Australia get first use of an Edgbaston featherbed, they may be able to exert some proper first innings pressure on England's batting line-up, with particular question marks, to my mind, lingering over Ravi Bopara (clearly struggling for form in the Lord's 2nd innings), Ian Bell and Matt Prior. Prior's 2 Test centuries have both been scored against the West Indies and both were the 3rd of the England innings; it is one thing playing cameos with a declaration looming, quite another proving yourself a number 6 under pressure.

A similar argument can be deployed against Ian Bell, whose 8 Test centuries have always been the 2nd, at least, of the innings in which they were scored. That could potentially be misleading - accusations levelled at Bell that he has often 'slipstreamed' Kevin Pietersen show a lack of understanding of the differences between their batting styles - but his conversion rate of 8 centuries from 27 fifties (similar to Cook's 9 from 29, contrast Strauss 18 from 32, KP 16 from 31) is a poor one, a statistic that does not lie.

So make sure you're tuned in at about 10.45 tomorrow - if play is to start on time - since Andrew Strauss' flip of the coin could perhaps be a crucial one.

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