That could change this time but England’s preparation has not been as seamless
as it was coming into the series here three years ago, even though they drew
the corresponding match then. They have a new, but very capable, opening
batsman, Michael Carberry, and a convalescing wicketkeeper, Matt Prior.
Although not yet ruled in or out with his calf injury, he is one of the
stalwarts of the team as well as vice-captain.
Yesterday, Prior batted in the nets and worked on his keeping with Bruce
French, a black strapping very evident on his left calf. He is a fine,
experienced competitor but the series is five matches long. With a 10-day
gap between this Test and the next, at Adelaide, it might be more sensible
to get him completely healed rather than risk a recurrence by playing here.
“Matt’s a very valuable member of the side, a hugely experienced cricketer and
a huge help for me as vice-captain,” said Cook. “But you have to be
sensible. You could have him for this one game but if he then goes back five
major steps and gets a bigger tear in it and misses three or four then we’ll
look stupid. If he plays four out of five that’s better for us. But he’s
been given every opportunity because we know how valuable he is to us.”
If he is not fit Jonny Bairstow will play, yet Cook would not confirm the
identity of his third seamer. By a process of elimination and England’s
desire to maintain pressure with the ball, it is almost certainly Chris
Tremlett, the big-boned Surrey seamer who is the least risky option among
the three 6ft?8in giants vying for that final bowling spot. Also, Tremlett
has done well in Australia before, though he did not play in Brisbane last
Compared to the English summer, where they used 18 players in the series,
Australia appear more settled. To 10 of the team who played England at the
Oval three months ago, they have added George Bailey for a Test debut at the
age of 31, and Johnson, recalled to continue a Test career of highs and
lows. Yesterday in the nets, it was uncanny to see how the old verities
about the two played out, Bailey unable to lay a bat on the red ball and
Johnson unerringly finding the middle of everyone else’s bat with it. With
white balls, the two are among the best exponents of their craft in world
cricket, but a change of colour and format can create doubts.
Much has been made of the potential role of the captains on the series.
Indeed, England were perturbed about how Australia, despite have been beaten
3-0 a few months ago, seemed to have gained the moral high ground after
accusing England of playing dour, boring cricket. But if it struck a nerve,
then it has gone now, with Cook admitting he would take a win, however dull.
“We want to play good cricket,” said Cook. “But if you offer me a 1-0 victory
now where we scrap every game, then I’ll snap your hand off, because that’s
how important it is.”
Clarke would also take any kind of win, having not tasted one for the past
nine Tests. His reputation for being an aggressive and proactive captain has
made him a hostage to fortune, but however funky he is Australia are
unlikely to compete unless he has a good series with the bat.
“When you cross the line against England it is always tough cricket,” said
Clarke. “As captain it is very important that you lead from the front. And I
think batting is a part of that, scoring runs. To me the most important
thing about captaincy is getting the best out of your players. That is my
job, to get the best out of whatever XI are selected.”
One obvious advantage Cook has over him is in his and his team’s use of the
Decision Review System, which for this series has Real Time Snicko and an
improved Hot-Spot. In addition, teams will also have their reviews
reinstated after 80 overs, irrespective of whether they have used none, one
or both of their reviews.
Both boards are keen for technology to be used, as is the broadcaster Channel
Nine, but Clarke is not convinced, having criticised it in his recently
published Ashes Diary. He had pulled back from that position yesterday,
saying he had no problems with it provided it was consistent.
Enhanced technology or not, the match will be Kevin Pietersen’s 100th Test,
the hallmark of the truly great cricketer. A man who likes to respond to the
big occasion, few would put it past Pietersen to deliver something special,
which is why Cook wanted him back in the fold after he was dropped for his
treachery towards Andrew Strauss in 2012.
“That’s an outstanding achievement,” said Cook. “To join that club of 100 Test
matches shows that for a long period of time you’ve been a very valuable
member of the side. Kev’s been excellent since this time last year and all
that stuff happened. That hundred in Mumbai [last November], I will never
forget that, and that’s why he’s here. He’s always stood up to the big
occasion and delivered, and he’ll be desperate to do that in his 100th Test