CARDIFF // Australia will decide on their bowling combination for the first Ashes Test against England after studying the pitch and ground conditions at their final practice session. The tourists were forced to face life without fast bowler Brett Lee who was a certainty to return to the side following an injury break after ripping through the England Lions last week. Lee pulled out of the first Test after a scan revealed a slight tear in his rib area.
"Brett obviously bowled beautifully last week and I think that everybody that saw him was impressed with what he did," the Australian captain Ricky Ponting said. "It's a relatively minor injury and we haven't written him out of playing in the second Test. We are all keeping our fingers crossed and hopefully he will back sooner rather than later." Unsettled weather is predicted in Wales for the remainder of the week and there were a couple of showers this morning before the Australians arrived at the ground for net practice.
Ponting said the selectors had not yet settled on an team but would discuss their options after practice and decide this evening or even tomorrow morning. "We have a number of different ways we could go," he said. By contrast, England captain Andrew Strauss said the home team had already decided on their final XI. "Obviously we won't be announcing until the morning but we are pretty clear in our own minds," he said. "There has been some rain around but it looks a pretty good wicket.
"I think there will be probably be a little bit in it for the seamers and good scoring opportunities for the batters and it will probably turn towards the end." A moist atmosphere and heavy cloud cover will encourage conventional swing and may persuade Australia to play their four remaining pace bowlers Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Stuart Clark and Ben Hilfenhaus and omit the specialist spinner Nathan Hauritz. Off-spinner Hauritz has taken just two wickets in two warm-up matches at a cost of 260 runs.
If England have decided to include Graham Onions in a four-pronged pace attack, left-arm spinner Monty Panesar is the likely omission along with reserve batsman Ian Bell. After the mass-hysteria before Australia start their Ashes defence in a series delayed by the Twenty20 World Cup, both captains seemed happy to stop talking and start playing. "I think we have all the bases covered, there's not going to be any massive Churchillian speeches," Strauss said.
Ponting, 34, who is making his fourth tour of England, said the Australian team had been sharing memories of their first Ashes experiences. "To hear those has been great," he said. "It goes back a long time for me. My uncle (medium pace bowler Greg Campbell) was selected in the '89 Ashes touring squad. "I remember going down to his house just after his kit arrived with his baggy green and his jumper and his playing shirts. Just to go through all that and touch the clothing was for me where the dream of playing Ashes cricket all started."