Australia's Ashes preparations will go up a gear when they get serious in their first tour match against Sussex.
12-a-side match a serious affair for Australians
LONDON // Australia's Ashes preparations will go up a gear when they get serious in their first tour match against Sussex today. A reciprocal agreement with England's 2006/07 tourists in Australia means a 12-a-side match is scheduled, and there will be no first-class status for this four-day fixture at Hove. It is nonetheless 11 of the 12 picked to play today are highly likely to be the ones chosen to take on the England Lions at Worcester next week, and then England themselves in the first Test at Cardiff, which begins on July 8.
The Australian captain Ricky Ponting - who yesterday announced a team with few surprises - has made it clear the stakes will be high for all concerned on England's south coast this week. "We have got the right to play 12 players in this game, but that does not mean we will be using it as practice," he said. "We will be using this game to get used to the conditions. "We believe this wicket will be the most like Cardiff anywhere in the country, so it will be a good opportunity for us as batsmen to get used to the pace and bounce, maybe a bit of spin."
The off-spinner Nathan Hauritz is the only specialist slow bowler in the Australia squad - and Ponting anticipates a significant four days coming up, particularly for him as captain. "It will be a good opportunity for our bowlers to be able to experience those conditions, working out the lengths and line they need to bowl," he said. "It will be especially useful for Hauritz to get good exposure to the sort of conditions.
"We will play the game to win. It will not be a four-day boring game; it will be a good quality cricket match, which both sides and the fans will enjoy." Ponting is refusing, meanwhile, to allow himself or any of his team to become distracted by rumours that Cardiff is likely to favour spin over seam - with England contemplating selection and gameplan to suit. "A lot of what I am hearing about the wicket down there [in Cardiff] is that England could play two spinners," he acknowledged.
"But a lot of it will rest on Flintoff's fitness and how he comes through the next few weeks. "If they play two spinners, they would want him to be their third quick bowler - so I think a lot rests on that." * PA