With the prospect of a whitewash lurking tantalisingly in front of England, the last thing they needed was a Test match in the north. Unfortunately, they have two; the Ashes roadshow clatters up to Durham straight after their quick swim around Manchester, where the 5-0 dream could disappear in one of the great damp squibs. Dave Warner’s elaborate rain-dance during his sojourn to Southern Africa, mistaken for him trying to fight Thami Tsolekile by the watching scribes, could well prove to be his greatest contribution to Australian society.
The problem with previewing Australia games nowadays is that trying to crack their ‘if you throw enough shit’ selection policy would vex Bletchley Park. Watson, Rogers, Clarke, Haddin, Harris and Siddle will play, the other five spots could be filled by almost literally anyone. Given some of their slightly veiled digs at the Old Trafford pitch this week, they might choose to play two spinners, or they could bring in James Faulkner in a desperate attempt to find enough batsmen to make a reasonable score. Ultimately, the choices they’re making are the equivalent of deciding whether they’d like to bleed to death or be buried at sea.
England, meanwhile, have tried to elaborately trick both Australia and the media into thinking they’ve got a whole host of selection dilemmas as well. In reality, they have one, and it depends solely on how many pieces Kevin Pietersen’s calf is in on Thursday morning. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Chris Tremlett in particular played one of the remaining Tests so his giant biceps can put the fear of God into Australia before the return series down under, but Monty Panesar’s inclusion was probably just so he could entertain everyone with his drawing during all the rain delays.
The best chance Australia have (other than it pissing it down for five days, obviously) is to bowl first and catch England cold. It sort of worked in the first Test and it sort of half worked in the second, but now they really need it to properly work. Realistically, they need to bowl England out for about 73 to ensure a first innings lead. They need Michael Clarke’s back to remain in place and for him to score a double hundred, while all the other ten players manage to cling on long enough for him to make the runs. If all of that happens, Australia are well in the game.
All that not to happen.