Will Quinn | 8:41am gmt 24 Jul 2009
The Aussies enter the tour match today with some serious issues on their hands. They're 1-0 down in a series, a position they struggled in even with a team filled with all-time greats, and desperately need a comeback from somewhere. The tour game against Northants starting today is absolutely crucial if they are to make a comeback of sorts in the series.
The first, most obvious problem for the Aussies is their star bowler, Mitchell Johnson, emphatically failing to fire. With the rest of the bowlers often struggling to find a threatening line to left-handers, England's all-southpaw opening partnership has caused all kinds of problems- as has their all-southpaw "closing partnership" at Cardiff. The tour match is absolutely essential in finding some form for Midge.
If he plays, a lot of attention will go to Stuart Clark- the man who took an incredible 26 wickets @ 17 in the last Ashes but hasn't even played this time round. He seemed to have lost a bit of nip against England Lions, understandable after a long injury lay-off. He's now had months to recuperate, and if he's back to his effective best England's opening partnership- who Clark dismissed four times each in 2006/07- could be conquered. On the other hand, if he's still looking a bit stale, Australia will be concerned that the 33-year-old may never be the same again. It's only a three-day warm-up, but for Clark's career, it's a massive game.
In order to accommodate either Clark or Andrew McDonald, Australia look set to play a five-man attack with Brad Haddin, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke all staying in London. This could spark a change in tactics for Edgbaston- I suspect Marcus North, if he fails to score here, could be the man to miss out. On the other hand, if the lower order capitulates in either innings, a u-turn could be on the cards with any bowler who fails to perform likely to miss out. It's quite possible that Australia could send out a completely unchanged lineup for the third test, but if certain players aren't performing, the side could also undergo a massive overhaul.
There's a lot more riding on this match than seemed the case three weeks ago. The events of a three-day game with little press coverage, and in particular the performance of Mitchell Johnson, could determine the course of the rest of the series.