Edgbaston return won’t save England from defeat

Robin Hutchison
Pulling Power: Captain Clarke can steer Australia to a second victory in Birmingham

IF ENGLAND’S cricketers were ever in need of a return to their most successful venue it was after the chastening defeat at Lord’s.

Things looked grim on the first two days when Australia racked up 566 runs for the loss of eight wickets.

And they then got a whole lot worse when they skittled their hosts for just 103, as Mitchell Johnson opened up a few old wounds.

Yet in this corner of the West Midlands they have a healthy 51% win record and have lost only eight Test matches since 1902.

Edgbaston was also the setting for an Andrew Flintoff-inspired two-run victory that turned the tide in the 2005 series.

The dilemma for us punters is whether or not some of the magic will rub off on them again this time, or if their beating at HQ was so severe that they can’t possibly recover.

As one scribe wrote over the weekend, if England continue their recent pattern of ‘win one, lose one’, they’ll take this series 3-2.

At a best-priced 4/1 for victory here, their odds are certainly tempting enough. But I’m not convinced, particularly if they lose the toss again.

In the last 12 Tests which have produced a result on the ground, eight have been won by the side batting first, including that game in 2005 when Ricky Ponting defied logic to bowl first.

Betway’s 17/20 for an Australia win will look pretty big if Michael Clarke calls correctly this morning, against a side that has been forced to act and may have to do so again before the series is out.

The bovine-booted Gary Ballance has gone back to Yorkshire, with Ian Bell shuffling up to three, and Jonny Bairstow in at five, having accumulated an impressive amount of runs in the county game.

But I am equally concerned about England’s bowling attack.

At Lord’s, James Anderson went wicketless for the first time in 59 Tests, while Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood mustered just five scalps between them.

Wood, in particular, has failed to make an impact so far and there are signs his meagre return of first-class matches have left him ill-equipped for the rigours of Test cricket.

With his foot planted firmly on his opposite number’s neck, Clarke will do all he can to make sure there is no chance of respite over the next five days.

The Aussie skipper averages 47 at Edgbaston and showed something of a return to form in last week’s warm-up match, albeit against a weakened Derbyshire team.

In the hoopla around Steven Smith’s double hundred at Lord’s Clarke has slipped out to 5/1 to be the visitors’ top batsman and is well worth a few quid.

▀ Pointers…
Australia to win the third Test 17/20 with Betway
Michael Clarke to be top Australia Batsman 5/1 general