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Can England afford to call on fragile Flintoff again?
In the end it wasn’t about the two S’s, Swann and swing, it came down to the two P’s, patience and perseverance, as Australia’s batsmen swept away England hopes of a 2-0 Ashes series lead by holding on for a draw at Edgbaston. The challenge for Australia and their batting line-up now is to perform like that in the first innings of a test to put pressure on England, and not just in the second when they need to save a game.
This match didn’t get the denouement it deserved after the thrilling cricket played on Friday and Sunday, but mother nature can hold up her hand and take the blame for that. Just one more day’s play could have provided an intriguing finish, but it wasn’t to be.
In truth England’s bowlers didn’t bowl well enough, with Graeme Swann never quite touching the dizzy heights of Sunday night when he bowled a spellbinding over to Ricky Ponting, which eventually accounted for the great man’s wicket.
Flintoff bowled with aggression but now looks so seriously hampered by his knee injury you begin to wonder whether the Headingley test, which begins on Friday, might be beyond him.
As in the first innings, Anderson’s probing line and ability to swing the ball offered the home side the likeliest route to victory, but bewilderingly he was left under bowled by captain Andrew Strauss.
Most cause for concern will be the bowling form of Stuart Broad who, like Mitchell Johnson, appears to be shorn of confidence. Unlike Johnson, he is struggling to take wickets when he’s out of form.
I’d stick with Broad. He’s a good bowler learning his trade and too much time has been invested in him to dispense with him mid-series, in his first slump of form. It may place pressure on the rest of the bowling attack but his batting adds weight to a line-up that appears brittle without Pietersen.
So, the choice for Strauss and the selectors, if Andrew Flintoff is passed fit, will be whether to stick with Graham Onions, who bowled beautifully on Friday morning, bring in the horses-for-courses swing bowler Ryan Sidebottom, or recall the “daisy” (some days he does, some days he don’t) Steve Harmison to add hare’em and scare’em fire power.
I’d stick with the same line-up. By all accounts Headingley pitches these days are flatter than in the past and they’ll need the durability and youth of Anderson, Broad and Onions to take 20 wickets.
If Flintoff isn’t fit, playing Harmisson to add variety would be the best bet.
Of concern to England coach Andy Flower will be that Australia have scored six centuries to England’s one. Five of the top six heaviest scorers with the bat in the series so far are Australian. And four of the top five wicket takers are from the touring party.
What he can take heart from is that his side are still 1-0 up, meaning they have taken the wickets and scored runs when it mattered, and his team were the only side with a chance of winning this truncated match.
As for Australia. They’ll look at those stats and wonder how on earth they trail in this series.
The 2009 vintage may not have the class of 2005, but roll on Friday is what I say and bring me more Ashes cricket.
PHOTO: Australia’s Michael Clarke is congratulated by England’s Andrew Flintoff after Clarke reached his century during the fifth day of the third Ashes Test against England at Edgbaston, Birmingham, England, August 3, 2009. REUTERS/Philip Brown