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Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 16:16 UK

Jonathan Agnew column

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

Mitchell Johnson in action in the nets for Australia
If Johnson isn't bowling straight, it doesn't make any difference what his role is - he will still be ineffective

England captain Andrew Strauss has identified the third Test as the key battle of the series.

Certainly, if England win here, it will be very difficult for Ricky Ponting's team to keep their hold on the Ashes. But an Australian victory this week means everything is up for grabs again.

Torrential rain has already had an impact. The ground is underwater, and a prompt start on Thursday already seems unlikely.

Neither team was able to practise apart from indoor nets, and the conditions have ended Monty Panesar's hopes of playing - he has been sent back to Northants.

That leaves England with the choice between Graham Onions and Steve Harmison and, again, the conditions favour Onions' seam movement over Harmison's bounce.

The news that Andrew Flintoff has been passed fit to play is a great shot in the arm for England. To be without both their leading batsman and bowler would have been very difficult to bear, and given Australia a real chance of bouncing back.

With a typically raucous and partisan Edgbaston crowd cheering him on, I would not be surprised if Flintoff makes another major impact in this match because none of the Australians looked comfortable facing him at Lord's.

Strauss was quick to talk up Ian Bell's credentials as direct replacement for Kevin Pietersen. It is true that many players benefit from a short time on the sidelines - it is a sharp reminder of both the thrill and privilege it is to play sport for your country.

Previously, Bell was tormented by Shane Warne, which helps to account for his lowly average of 25 against Australia, but as Strauss said on Wednesday, there really is no "aura" about this current Australian team and there is no need to feel the least bit intimidated by any of them.


It is a great chance for Bell to keep pressure on Ravi Bopara at number three - the position Bell really should have made his own by now.

Pietersen aside, the problems lie firmly in the Australian camp. Mitchell Johnson's bowling continues to be wildly erratic and I can't understand Ponting's statement about '"using him as an attacking option this time".

If he isn't bowling straight, it doesn't make any difference what his role is - he will still be ineffective.

England are gunning for Phillip Hughes, whose technique they have studied and now exploited to great effect. We will see over the next few weeks if the 20-year-old deserves his awesome reputation.

Sadly, the weather might have the final say and judging by the gloomy forecast both teams will be pushed to force a result.

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see also
Aussies have lost aura - Strauss
29 Jul 09 |  England
Justin Langer column
29 Jul 09 |  Cricket
England toil after weather delay
30 Jul 09 |  England
Bell to bat at four for England
28 Jul 09 |  England
Johnson will come good - Haddin
27 Jul 09 |  Australia
Ashes memories: Edgbaston
27 Jul 09 |  Cricket
Flintoff inspires England victory
20 Jul 09 |  England
Strauss salutes awesome Flintoff
20 Jul 09 |  England
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket
Australia in England 2009
20 Sep 09 |  England

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