Expect England to be back on top at Chester-le-Street


ENGLAND’S 100 per cent record at Chester-le-Street makes them worthy favourites to land a third Investec Ashes victory to win the series with a Test to spare.

Digging a little deeper into England’s four Test results at the Durham ground reveals that those victories have come against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies twice − yet three of those were by an innings and the other by seven wickets.

A combination of poor weather and bad light proved Australia’s undoing at Old Trafford as they were left powerless to prevent the urn remaining with England. If there was a silver lining for Michael Clarke, it was that for the first time this series his men showed some fighting spirit and potential of what might come during the rest of the year.

The good news for cricket fans is that the weather forecasters are predicting decent conditions in the north east at the time of writing.

DRS almost had as big an influence on proceedings in Manchester as the rain, with both teams struggling to utilise the controversial technology. Kevin Pietersen’s second innings dismissal even led to Australia’s Channel Nine broadcaster making an unsubstantiated claim that players were using silicon tape to deceive Hot Spot, which will only add to the tension on the field.

History shows us that Durham favours pace bowlers with seam movement and bounce all set to keep the batsmen on their toes. Graham Onions has been recalled to the England squad for the fourth Test after continuing to star for his county. His nine wickets at Middlesex last weekend are proof that he’s ready to return to the team if called upon.

England’s performance at Old Trafford was below-par and I cannot see team director Andy Flower letting the quality slip for the second match running. Another draw looks unlikely with the bad weather set to stay away and the chance to keep Australia off the board is a massive incentive.

Man-of-the-series Ian Bell got another half-century in Manchester and has a top score of 162 not out here. I like England’s chances of improving their winning run in Durham and they are worth backing at evens with Coral to take a 3-0 series lead with one to play.

For the Australians, it’s the fitness of bowler Ryan Harris that will be the main selection worry heading into this match. He has 11 wickets from two outings in the series, but with only three days rest since his last Test it could prove a bridge too far for the notoriously fragile paceman. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Harris has not managed three successive Test matches over the past three years.

That means the responsibility will likely rest on Peter Siddle’s shoulders. He has taken 16 wickets in the series and is just three dismissals behind Graeme Swann, who is currently leading the FTI Most Valuable Player rankings in this series.

At 11/4 with various bookmakers, Siddle is a solid bet to be the tourist’s top first innings bowler at Chester-le-Street.

Michael Clarke has a series average of 52.73 after his magnificent knock of 187, as he was finally given some support from the likes of Chris Rogers and Steve Smith after the Aussies’ poor batting in the opening two Tests.

We backed Clarke to be top Australian series batsman in last week’s column at 9/4 with Coral − he’s now as short as 1/6. The 32-year-old is a good shout to be top first innings batsman for his side in Durham at 11/4 with the same firm.

■ Pointers…
England at evens with Coral
Peter Siddle Australia’s top first innings bowler at 11/4 general
Michael Clarke Australia’s top first innings batsman at 11/4 with Coral