Ashes HQ ASHES HQ 2009

Selection Questions

It feels like no time at all since Monday afternoon, though that in itself was a long afternoon, as an Englishman! Back-to-back Tests really do come around quickly, especially when the first Test has gone the distance. In just a few days, though, there has been a lot of discussion and there are a lot of question marks over how the sides are going to line up.

For England, the main doubt, as it has been all series, is the one cast over Andrew Flintoff’s fitness. Andrew Strauss seems set to take a hard line, and will be making absolutely sure that the all-rounder is completely fit to go the distance, but you just know that Flintoff will want more than ever to be on the field for this game. Whilst the prospect of ensuring he is fit for a sentimental finale at The Oval may seem appealing initially, Flintoff will not, under any circumstances, want to miss out on the game where England regain the Ashes, which of course is what will happen should England emerge victorious at Headingley.

Replacing Flintoff is no mean feat but it seems that the selectors will do so if necessary by picking Warwickshire’s Jonathan Trott, who would potentially slot in at six, thus bumping Matt Prior down to seven. England’s bowling cannot afford to carry any passengers if they pick just four bowlers, though, which means that Stuart Broad will probably miss out if Flintoff does. Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison wait in the wings. If the ball swings like it often does at Headingley, Sidebottom would be the best man for the job, and him and James Anderson could cause huge damage to Australia given the right conditions. If it doesn’t swing, though, then Harmison’s pace, bounce and aggression would be much preferred tools. The selectors will be ruing the fact that they don’t know what the ball will do until the game starts, alas I would therefore expect them to not take the risk, Harmison will probably come in for Stuart Broad, with Graeme Swann and James Anderson moving up a spot each in the batting order.

Regardless of Flintoff’s fitness, questions are being asked about Stuart Broad anyway. With Flintoff seeming to be in good nick with the bat after a fine innings at Edgbaston, Broad’s batting may be seen to be needed less than it once was, especially with Graeme Swann sitting at nine anyway. Therefore, if Flintoff plays, don’t be surprised if Sidebottom comes in for Broad, although he does seem to have the backing of the coach. Ravi Bopara is another player who has had the axe wildly thrust in his direction by could-be selectors across England, but Andy Flower has confirmed that Bopara will play.

As for Australia, they have a couple of fitness worries. Michael Clarke sat out training yesterday with an abdominal strain but should be fine to take his place in the side tomorrow. The other main doubt is Brad Haddin, who of course missed the previous Test with a broken finger. He has been able to bat and keep in training today, but will still need to do more to prove his fitness to his captain. Don’t expect a decision on that one until tomorrow morning.

Another man whose fitness is under scrutiny is express pace bowler Brett Lee. He has been bowling at full pace in the nets though it remains to be seen whether that will be enough. The big question is who does he replace? Peter Siddle seems to be the man most unlucky to miss out, and it does seem unfortunate. The paceman has impressed with his aggression in the series but failed to take too many wickets and if Lee is recalled, expect him to miss out. Mitchell Johnson should have done enough at Edgbaston to keep his place, England will certainly be hoping that he returns to his Lord’s form if they are to regain the Ashes in Leeds!

A man who has missed out so far and may well find himself in the mix is Stuart Clark. He is the man that many Australia supporters want in the team, but for whatever reason the selectors don’t seem to share their desire. Still, don’t rule out the prospect of him coming in for Siddle, or even Nathan Hauritz if Australia decide that spin isn’t required.

There are many permutations and possibilities for tomorrow’s line-ups. For what it’s worth, and I’m gambling on certain players being fit for this (perhaps a little too optimistically in a certain case!), here are my predicted line-ups:



Finally, let’s hope for a bit of better weather this weekend! It promises to be the most exciting stage yet, in this enthralling series.

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