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England ready for third Test battle

With Bell and Harmison likely to be included, the selectors say they have all 'bases covered' with the nature of the pitch under a cloud.

The absence of Kevin Pietersen, who will miss all three remaining Test matches because of an Achilles injury, will not hinder England's chances of regaining the Ashes, according to selector Geoff Miller. The Edgbaston pitch at Birmingham, the venue for the third Test starting on Thursday, is said to favour the bowlers after groundsman Steve Rouse said heavy rain had delayed the preparations.

And Miller said: "We had question marks to cover in the last squad but I don't foresee needing to do that here. "We have all bases covered so that, whatever conditions we turn up to, we have players to complement them." Miller added: "There is a lot of time and a lot of weather between now and then, and we will keep monitoring it." Ian Bell will probably replace Pietersen, despite making seven runs and a duck for Warwickshire against Hampshire recently. However, prior to the disappointment of his last match, Bell has scored heavily in the County Championship with 640 runs in seven innings.

The 13-man England squad will be announced today and coach Andy Flower made it clear that Bell was in line to fill in for Pietersen. England will continue to monitor the fitness of all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who is suffering with a knee injury. Stephen Harmison, on standby at Lord's, is likely to be included again as is left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, who was dropped for the second Test. The Australian captain Ricky Ponting refused to comment on the pitch after coming in for criticism in 2005 when opting to bowl first on a lifeless Edgbaston track without injured paceman Glen McGrath.

"We were told exactly the same thing for the week leading up that Test," Ponting said. "There had been a cyclone that had gone through Birmingham and wicket preparation was miles behind. It was overcast on that day so we bowled. And the thing [the ball] didn't move off the straight for the whole day. I'm not sure I'll be falling for that one this time around. We'll wait and see," added the Australian captain.

Shane Watson staked his claim for a place in the Australian team by scoring 84 against Northampton while an out-of-form Phillip Hughes could only manage 10. kshyam@thenational.ae

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