| England captain Nasser Hussain on the eve of the second Ashes Test in Adelaide Wednesday. (AFP)
Adelaide: Australia may have given up hope of ever being allowed to keep the Ashes trophy but their players remain determined to win yet another series.
The second Ashes Test, starting in Adelaide Thursday, is shaping up as possibly one of the biggest mismatches in the long history of cricket’s greatest rivalry.
While the Australians are still riding high on the crest of a wave that swept them to a 384-run victory in the series-opener in Brisbane, England are in dissaray after a horrific run of injuries and poor form.
If losing fast bowlers Darren Gough and Simon Jones before the completion of the first Test was not bad enough, the events of the past few days have only added to the crisis.
Allrounder Andrew Flintoff was ruled out of the second Test with a recurring groin problem, batsman John Crawley is almost certain to be out with a hip injury he sustained in the match with Australia A and spinner Ashley Giles broke his wrist practising his batting Tuesday.
Even without the injuries, England’s chances of winning were considered slim. They have not won a single match on tour so far and collapsed to 79 all out in the second innings of the first Test — their worst Test total Down Under in almost 100 years.
Despite the mounting problems stacked again his side, England coach Duncan Fletcher has maintained a philosophical approach.
“That’s probably why they call it Test cricket, you have to be tested,” he said Wednesday.
“You just keep going at it, that’s one of the strengths of this side. We’ve taken a few knocks and the guys just keep coming back, which is important. You can see from the way guys warm up and practise that there’s good morale still within the side.”
Captain Nasser Hussain did his bit to lift spirits, urging his injury-hit team to remain positive.
“The cricket’s not been great here, its as simple as that,” Hussain said. “There have been a lot of injuries and we haven’t done the basics right… but we have to turn things around pretty soon starting with this week in Adelaide.
“One thing you will get from the England team is that they are honest and we know we’re playing a very good Australian side, but it’s about time we put things right and that will not come from getting down or depressed.”
The mood in the home camp could not be any different.
The Adelaide Oval wicket is a favourite of the Australian players because it is perfect for batting for the first three days, then turns on the final two, assisting leg-spinner Shane Warne.
Not surprisingly, Australian captain Steve Waugh said his team was brimming with confidence going into the match.
“I think we’ve played pretty good cricket recently. For us it’s all about maintaining our standards and playing the style of cricket we want to play,” Waugh said.
“We want to play aggressively and positively and put the opposition under pressure and hopefully disorientate them sometimes by the way we play the game, at the pace we play.”
As the only survivor from the last Ashes series Australia lost 16 years ago, Waugh also reminded his players about the dangers of complacency or underestimating England after his team’s huge victory in the first test.
“It’s only one game, I think people are getting a bit carried away, there are four Test matches to go,” said Waugh.
“A lot can happen, a lot can change. And that’s why sport is such a good thing because people can turn things around.
“They’ve got the ability to do that, they’ve got good players, they’ve got passion in playing for that country, so there’s no reason England can’t turn it around. We’ve got to be wary that they can do that. At the same time we want to make sure we play good cricket, enjoy ourselves and express ourselves on the field.”
Gillespie given time
Australia have delayed naming the XI to allow Jason Gillespie as long as possible to prove his fitness. Waugh said he still expected Gillespie to play but the selectors wanted to make sure he was 100 per cent.
“They are being a bit more cautious but my gut feeling is that he’ll play,” Waugh said.
Gillespie has been troubled in the past month by a calf strain that continues to bother him. The lanky paceman was sent home from Australia’s recent Test series against Pakistan after straining his calf muscle and he aggravated the problem in the first Ashes Test.
If Gillespie is chosen, Andy Bichel and Brett Lee will be left to fight out the last fast bowler’s spot. Bichel, who was preferred in the first Test, took two wickets in the first innings and did not bowl in the second.
Lee was dropped for the first time in his career but has taken 21 wickets in two first-class matches since to push his claims for an immediate recall.
‘England paying price’
England have paid the price for gambling on unfit players, Waugh said Wednesday.
Waugh said England’s selection policy of choosing unfit players to tour was in contrast to Australia’s approach of only playing fit players .
“They picked some guys who weren’t fit, so in some way they’ve made their own bed,” Waugh said on the eve of the second Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval.
“It’s unfortunate that a guy (Giles) breaks his wrist at training, that’s one of those things, but if you pick guys who aren’t fit at the start of the tour then you are taking a gamble.
“Players have to be very close to 100 per cent fit otherwise they don’t play, guys have been pulled out of matches with minor niggles to make sure they are right long-term,” Waugh said.
“There has been a change in policy, where in the past it was up to the player whether he wanted to play, but now Errol has a lot more say in what’s going on.
“Errol knows everyone pretty well, he’s been around the side for 18 years, he knows what you can do and what your limits are, so generally it’s a more commonsense approach.”
England’s chairman of selectors David Graveney has defended the team’s medical staff amid uproar over the tourists’ injury crisis.
Graveney has also been the target of the critics for selecting Gough and Flintoff when both were struggling to be fit for the tour.
Graveney denied it was poor selection policy and blamed it on bad luck. “We selected our squad on the medical advice given,” he said.
“I think there’s been some unnecessary criticism levelled at our medical teams, as it’s not an exact science. We have had a fair crop of injuries and players withdrawing for various reasons over the past couple of years.
“Maybe that’s a reflection of the number of matches we have asked them to play.”
Australia (from): Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh (captain), Darren Lehmann, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Andy Bichel, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath.
England (from): Marcus Trescothick, Michael Vaughan, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain (captain), John Crawley, Robert Key, Alec Stewart, Alex Tudor, Richard Dawson, Andy Caddick, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor (West Indies) and Rudi Koertzen (South Africa).
Match Referee: Wasim Raja (Pakistan).