The Ashes: Third Test preview at Edgbaston

By Online Editorial

The first conundrum to solve when preparing to wager on the third Test between England and Australia at Edgbaston is whether to look up at the weather or down at the pitch.

Both are likely to have a huge say when play begins on Thursday.

The forecast is poor for the first three days with light showers on days one and two but a heavy shower on the third day. However, it is the expected downpour on Wednesday which could have the biggest impact.

Groundsman Steve Rouse has said the wicket is “like jelly” and he reckons further rain will only hinder his efforts to prevent a farce of children’s tea party proportions. Unsurprisingly it is the draw which has made the big move on the match odds market. It is creeping in with every day and is currently trading at 2.04. England, minus Kevin Pietersen don’t forget, are 5.30 and Australia 3.00.

Such a move is entirely to form. However, one should not get carried away. The key element is most likely to be the wicket and if the groundsman says it is likely to be underprepared then that can only mean that batting will be difficult. Throw in the moisture from the rain and expected cloud cover and you have something close to resembling a bowler’s paradise.

Indeed, runscoring has not been easy at Edgbaston down the years. Since 2000 (eight Tests) four sides have been bowled out for 231 in the first innings of the match or fewer and the average in that dig is 322. Immediately a lay of Australia and England at 1.72 and 1.73 for 325 first innings runs or more grabs the attention.

England and Australia will surely leave it as late as possible to name their teams. Andrew Flintoff is expected to play but whether he is joined by Steve Harmison, Graham Onions or Monty Panesar (unlikely given the rain) remains to be seen.

Harmison is one of those bowlers who gets better when he doesn’t play and although he is favourite to get the nod, Onions has a remarkable record at Edgbaston, averaging a wicket every 29 balls in first-class cricket.

Australia have selection worries, too. Do they stick with Mitchell Johnson and Phil Hughes? Or do they twist by picking Stuart Clark and Shane Watson? They may take the easy option of replacing Peter Siddle with Clark, who impressed against Northamptonshire in the week.

Whatever both sides do, they need to get it right because it should be the bowlers who have the greatest say. The ones that pitch it up and get it swinging will prosper. It sounds simple but bear in mind that England (in Cardiff) and Australia (at Lord’s) have both managed insipid efforts with the ball this series.

Traditionally, England are inspired by the Edgbaston crowd to get it right. This is their most successful home ground with a win-loss ratio of 2.75 towering over the next best at The Oval with 2.05. Arguably given that record and the lottery-like bowling conditions, they are overpriced on the match odds and should trade far lower.

The toss will be key. Four of the last five sides batting first have won a first-innings lead as the surface gets trickier as the match progresses.This fact is borne out by the success of opening batsmen on the ground. Four of the last six first-innings top runscorers have been openers and of the 11 centuries scored in the last five Tests, seven were by Nos 1 or 2.

Alastair Cook top scored for England at this venue against South Africa last summer and with a Test average of 47 on the ground and a first-class one of 66.5 the numbers, if not the technique, are on his side at 5.30 for top England bat. Andrew Strauss, his opening partner, averages 26 and 21 in first-class and Tests respectively at Edgbaston.

Australia’s openers, Simon Katich and Phil Hughes, are 5.30 and 6.20 for honours but no amount of numbers should persuade you to get with Hughes at the moment considering his woeful form. In the 2005 epic Ashes battle, Ricky Ponting made a half-century before a second-innings duck and Michael Clarke notched a 40 and 30.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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