London: England captain Andrew Strauss played a straight bat to some provocative deliveries from his Australian counterpart Ricky Ponting on Tuesday as his team prepared for the third Test against Pakistan.
Ponting, who lost a Test series for the second time in England last year, said on Monday he saw no reason why his team could not repeat their 5-0 whitewash in 2006-7 when the Ashes battle resumes in Australia in November.
Strauss, speaking to reporters at the Oval on the eve of the third Test against Pakistan, could have pointed to England’s record this year when they beat Australia in the final of the Twenty20 World Cup and then won a one-day series 3-2.
Instead he preferred to concentrate on England’s immediate task which is to record a seventh successive Test victory and clinch the four-match series against Pakistan.
“This is the start of the silly season, I suppose,” Strauss said. “All I can say from our point of view is that we are excited about our challenge against Australia and we think we can do pretty well out there. Predictions ultimately mean nothing.”
On Sunday the England selectors demonstrated their confidence in Strauss and his team by announcing an unchanged XI with Alastair Cook, who has scored just 100 runs in seven Test innings this season, the chief beneficiary.
Strauss expressed full confidence in his opening partner who, despite his recent problems against the new ball, has scored more than 4,000 Test runs with 12 centuries.
“I think it’s one of those things,” Strauss said. “One batsman always seems to be under pressure one way or the other and you have to react well to it.
“I’m very, very confident that Cookie will come through this and he’ll be part of our side going into the Ashes.”
Pakistan In Turmoil
Pakistan, in familiar disarray after squaring their two-Test series against Australia, were in constant difficulty against the swing, seam and spin delivered by England’s attack in the first two Tests.
In response, the prolific Mohammad Yousuf has been recalled to the side, after ending his brief international retirement.
“Yousuf is a world class player and we certainly need him,” captain Salman Butt told reporters. “He will be playing on Wednesday.”
Either Tanvir Ahmed or Wahab Riaz will replace injured pace bowler Umar Gul, who has been ruled out of the remainder of the series with a hamstring injury.
To compound Pakistan’s difficulties, Gul has been joined on the sidelines by wicketkeeper-batsman Zulqarnain Haider, who made 88 in the second innings on his Test debut at Edgbaston. Haider, who has a broken finger, will be replaced by Kamran Akmal who will return to the side for the second time this year after being dropped.
Since Andrew Flintoff retired from Test cricket last year, England have committed to a four-man attack with six specialist batsmen.
England will almost certainly need to take 20 wickets in at least two Tests in Australia to retain the Ashes and the London matches should provide a more searching examination of the abilities of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann.
Anderson, the leader of the attack, moved the ball wickedly late under leaden skies in the first two Tests but there are questions over his ability and attitude when the ball is not swinging in clearer conditions, like those in Australia.
Broad has yet to prove himself abroad while Finn, for all the immense promise he has shown in his debut international season, is still a novice.
Swann, the world’s top-ranked spinner, missed Monday’s practice session because he was in court on a drink-driving charge which was adjourned until October.
“He’s fine, he’s got his mind on the game which is important and he managed to drive himself down here,” Strauss said.
“We are conscious that conditions are going to be different from the first two wickets we played on. We are going to need to sustain pressure for long periods of time.”