Thursday 6 August 2009 

Ashes 2009: Fintoff - To Play Or Not To Play

Ashes 2009: Fintoff - To Play Or Not To Play
Ashes 2009: Fintoff - To Play Or Not To Play
© REUTERS/Philip Brown (BRITAIN SPORT CRICKET) Picture Supplied by Action Images
 

A stalemate at Edgbaston has maintained the slender 1-0 lead that England hold over Australia, but with Michael Clarke leading his side admirably to a draw in the third match, the tourists may hold the momentum going into the penultimate showdown of the Ashes 2009.

As is the trend with this series, the focus of the build up to this match has been heavily centred on Andrew Flintoff’s fitness battle with his lingering knee injury. Flintoff was far from his devastating best at Edgbaston and, as observed by Australia captain Ricky Ponting, was noticeably struggling to cope with the demands of five day’s cricket. He has been limping his way through all the training drills that England have been taking part in preparation for the game at Headingley and looked a dejected character whilst bowling in the nets today. Andrew Strauss is maintaining that he will not be picked if he isn’t fit enough to fulfil his all rounder duties, but it will be a difficult task for Strauss to tell ‘Freddie’ that he isn’t playing if the situation arises.

Other selection issues include the form of fast bowler Stuart Broad. His six wickets of the Ashes campaign have been costly, coming at a less than inspiring average of 57 and he is perhaps one more below par performance away from being cast to the sidelines. Coach Andy Flower has however given the tall seam bowler a vote of confidence suggesting to critics that Broad’s contributions in the series have been underestimated. Although, if the notorious ‘votes of confidence’ for football managers are anything to go by, then Broad’s Ashes days are numbered.

The surprise call up to the England squad of Jonathan Trott also suggests that the Kevin Pietersen-less batting order have been under the microscope of the selectors. Ravi Bopara is still playing a shot a ball with his so called ‘bravado’ that saw him score three centuries in succession against a far inferior West Indies side compared to Australia. Although, Flower has been adamant that Bopara will maintain his place in the side, Trott must be thinking that he has a chance of dislodging the Essex man. Sheer weight of runs have earned Trott selection which is a good sign of the ECB picking on form rather than potential or reputation, but it does beg the question why Bell was picked ahead of his team-mate for Edgbaston when Trott had scored significantly more runs this season.

For once, Australia are facing a build up to a match with players either showing signs of a return to form or imminent returns from injury. Mitchell Johnson, perhaps the biggest disappointment of the tour so far, showed glimpses at Edgbaston of what has given him such a fearsome reputation in world cricket. Perhaps he has finally come to terms with the alien conditions for him here in Britain. If that is the case, it’s taken him three Test matches to do so, but is it too late for him to become the Ashes hero that every Australian hoped he would? Whatever the reason for his demise, he is still capable of taking wickets as his Ashes tally of 10 wickets, albeit interspersed with some horror deliveries, suggests and England should be wary of Johnson if he gets it straight.

Brett Lee has been telling anyone that will listen that he is 100 per cent fit and raring to go for the Headingley Test match. In usual circumstances, one would take the word of the fast bowler, however in a press conference yesterday Shane Watson, whose own medical reports would be enough to sink the Titantic, has speculated that Lee is a Test match away from being fully match fit. One is inclined to side with Watson on this one as he probably has more knowledge about injuries than most physios in world cricket.

There has been a massive furore about the behaviour of the England fans towards Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston. The Aussie captain received a hostile reception from the Edgbaston crowd but in all reality it was no more abusive than any reception he would receive anywhere else in the world. Australia themselves have played down the claims that the Barmy Army and Co. were over the top in their abuse. With Headingley’s raucous reputation preceding it and the Edgbaston ‘abuse’, the ground has upped their security for tomorrow’s Test and there will be notable absentees from the Barmy Army with Billy Cooper, the group’s trumpeter, having been asked to stay away from the ground.

The next chapter of the Ashes is set to be another classic, and with the modern day cricketer talking so much of the importance of momentum, Australia may think they are the better prepared team arriving at Headingley. Although if England were to win in Leeds it would mean the Ashes were coming home, so, as throughout the whole series, the little urn’s future remains finely in the balance.

Peter Exley
© Cricket World 2009