Tuesday, September 8, 2009

England need to overcome batting weakness

Australia's arduous tour of England has, in the past couple of weeks, improved with back-to-back ODI wins in the seven-match series. In fairness, England ought to have shown enough middle-order mettle to win both games, but such is the precarious nature of their one-day fortunes that the visitors go into the third ODI in Southampton with a 2-0 lead.
James Anderson admitted yesterday that the lack of intensity in this series compared to that of the Ashes had surprised him, but it doesn't help when the team is losing. And for that trend to be reversed, it seems inconceivable that Adil Rashid won't be drafted back into the side after his excellent all-round display in the first match at The Oval (31 from 23 and an economical spell with the ball). But it's with the bat that England need to shine, and they are again without the services of Stuart Broad (neck strain) and Joe Denly whose left knee was hacked in a football warm-up prior to the series.

England's allrounder Broad may be unavailable but his Australian counterpart is, and is very much in form. Mitchell Johnson played a vital role in Australia's Lord's victory, transforming a dying innings with a blistering 43 from 23 balls before picking up 2 for 50. But it's the presence and sheer speed of Brett Lee that has provided Michael Clarke's side with that added spice. Frustrated at having to sit out of the Ashes, Lee's bursting with energy and he's not finished yet either, and even without Ricky Ponting to lead the side, Australia look the hungrier of the two teams.

Form guide
(last five matches, most recent first)
England - LLWWW
Australia - WWWLW
Watch out for…
Brett Lee is one seriously pumped-up cricketer at the moment. Six weeks of stewing on the sidelines has been converted into a series of point-proving performances, starting with his solitary over against Joe Denly and Jonathan Trott in the aborted Twenty20 in Cardiff, and carrying on into the first two ODIs. England had already made a mess of their run-chase when he came on to bowl at the tail-end of their innings at Lord's, but his fast, late inswinging yorkers would have proved unstoppable regardless of how England had fared up until that point.

Andrew Strauss has been the voice of reason at the top of England's batting order all summer, but he's not quite found his ODI tempo yet. He was a touch too frenetic in the first game at The Oval, where Lee's pace prised him out of his comfort zone, and though he looked to have the second game well within his grasp, he lost his concentration at a crucial juncture of the chase - and only two balls after a Lancaster bomber had buzzed over the ground. The top six have been to blame for the two losses so far, and no-one will feel that indignity more acutely than the captain.

Team news
Broad remains on the sidelines, having missed the second game with a neck strain, but Rashid is likely to find a way back into the starting line-up after impressing with bat and ball in The Oval contest. Joe Denly also remains unavailable with a strained knee and Graham Onions has been called up as cover.
England (probable): 1 Ravi Bopara, 2 Andrew Strauss (capt), 3 Matt Prior (wk), 4 Owais Shah, 5 Paul Collingwood , 6 Luke Wright, 7 Eoin Morgan, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Ryan Sidebottom.

Australia haven't seen the need to change their side as yet, and why would they? Callum Ferguson has made the No. 5 berth his own, while the two Nathans, Bracken and Hauritz, have provided economy and control next to Brett Lee's searing pace.

Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Tim Paine (wk), 3 Cameron White, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Callum Ferguson, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 James Hopes, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Nathan Hauritz 10 Brett Lee, 11 Nathan Bracken.

Pitch and conditions
Summer has returned, briefly, and the forecast is for dry and reasonably warm weather in Southampton. If England need inspiration, and they probably do, they racked up a winning 288 for 2 in the last ODI they played there against India in 2007. The surface has offered plenty of runs this season, too, with Hampshire chasing down 233 in the Pro40 to beat Yorkshire in August.
Stats and trivia
England have won one out of two matches at The Rose Bowl. Australia played and thrashed the USA in the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy at the ground
The Rose Bowl staged its first Twenty20 between England and Australia in 2005, when Australia were rolled for 79 chasing 179.
"It's strange when, from the dressing room, you can actually hear players shouting encouragement on the field, because obviously through the Ashes you couldn't hear that."
James Anderson hopes that the atmosphere for the third match is more fervent than was the case in the opening two games.

"Having the senior guys batting around me has also helped me to continue to improve in that area, and see the innings through, rather than blow-out in the 40th over. I try to be there at the end if I can."
Callum Ferguson, Australia's top-scorer at The Oval and Lord's, hopes to continue his fine run.

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