Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke addresses a press conference at Old Trafford in Manchester in north-west England, on July 31, 2013, ahead of the third Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia. – AFP Photo
Australia's captain Michael Clarke talks to former player Shane Warne (L) during a training session before Thursday's third Ashes test cricket match against England at Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester July 31, 2013. – Reuters Photo
MANCHESTER: Old Trafford has witnessed some memorable Ashes feats down the years, Shane Warne's so-called ''Ball of the Century'' in 1993 and Jim Laker's 19-wicket haul in 1956 high on the list. If Australia is to avoid an embarrassingly early end to the 2013 Ashes series, it will have to pull off another in the third test starting Thursday.
Down 2-0 in the five-match series, on a run of six straight test defeats and with their batting department in disarray, few are giving the embattled tourists a chance. Except Michael Clarke, that is.
“I honestly believe we can win this series – and I know there are a lot of people out there that will laugh at me saying that,” the Australia captain said Wednesday.
“But I wouldn't be here today if I thought this team wasn't good enough to have success. The reality is, our backs are against the wall. But if we play our best cricket, I think we will give it a real shake for the rest of the series.”
There is a precedent for Australia coming from 2-0 behind to win an Ashes series 3-2 –the team did so in 1936-37. That side contained a certain Don Bradman, however, and there is no one anyone near his ilk in the current lineup.
In fact, no specialist Australia batsman has scored more than 81 in an innings this series and the highest knock is owned by a No. 11, Ashton Agar's extraordinary 98 in the first test at Trent Bridge.
If the turnaround is to happen, the Australians need their batters to hit form and the likely recall of David Warner for his first match this series could spark a revival. The strapping left-hander is back in action after serving a suspension for punching England batsman Joe Root in a late-night bar-room incident during the Champions Trophy in June, and hit 193 for Australia A against its South African counterparts last week.
“He's got 190-odd runs under his belt, which is obviously a positive considering our batters haven't made many runs so far on this tour,” Clarke said. “I think Davey at the time made it pretty clear that he was extremely apologetic for what occurred (with Root).”
“He knows what the expectations are as an Australian cricketer. I am very confident that he has learnt from what happened in the past, is trying to put that behind him and move forward.”
Clarke wouldn't be drawn on whether Warner would be recalled but it is a risk worth taking given the team's current predicament. With selectors likely to keep faith with Shane Watson and Chris Rogers as openers, Warner could come in for injury doubt Steve Smith (back) in the middle order.
Australia must also find a replacement for paceman James Pattinson, who is out for the rest of the series with a back problem. Mitchell Starc or Jackson Bird are the likely alternatives while Nathan Lyon could come Agar as the spinner.
Looking to clinch a third straight Ashes series win for the first time since 1981, England couldn't be in a stronger position – and it hasn't played anywhere near its best this series, either.
The priority for captain Alastair Cook has been not letting his teammates get ahead of themselves, despite many pundits saying the series is already won and predicting a whitewash.
“It's very dangerous to start thinking like that,” Cook said Wednesday. “We are a very good side when we take games one step at a time and the only thing we can concentrate on is this Old Trafford test match, not what's gone before and not what's going to come.”
Still, with batsman Kevin Pietersen seemingly fit after a calf injury and England having won six of its last seven tests at Old Trafford, things couldn't be better.
With the Manchester track notorious for assisting spinners, Monty Panesar could come in to help out frontline slow bowler Graeme Swann, buoyed by his record of taking 25 wickets in three Tests at Old Trafford at an average of 16.
Chris Tremlett, a hulking fast bowler who has overcome back problems to feature in an England squad for the first time in 15 months, is also in contention to start with the hosts showing off their strength in depth in naming a 14-man squad.
Cook is on the brink of winning his first Ashes series as captain – there is no greater feeling as an England player – to leave Clarke staring a whitewash squarely in the face.
“That was the prediction when we arrived here in the UK and it's up to us to make sure we don't allow that to happen,” Clarke said. “I believe we can win the series.”