MANCHESTER, England, (Reuters) – England batsman Kevin Pietersen looks poised to play in the third Ashes test against Australia at Old Trafford from today after recovering from a calf injury.
Pietersen has been struggling since the second test at Lord’s but batted in the indoor nets for almost an hour yesterday and then had a short fitness test on the soggy outfield, with strapping filled with a liquid visible on his leg.
“Pretty good,” captain Alistair Cook told a news conference when asked about the chances of Pietersen playing.
“He has gone through training the last two days and done everything we asked of him. Fingers crossed.”
England will wait to see how their most explosive batsman reacts to the fitness test before naming their team at the toss on Thursday, with good weather forecast despite Wednesday’s rain in famously wet Manchester.
James Taylor, who has two caps and scored an unbeaten century against Australia playing as a ringer for Sussex in last week’s tour match, has been included in the squad in case Pietersen is ruled out.
England lead the five-match series 2-0 and will retain the Ashes with a win or a draw.
Pietersen barely contributed in the first two tests yet England still edged the tourists by 14 runs at Trent Bridge before humiliating Michael Clarke’s men by 347 runs at Lord’s to inflict a sixth straight test loss on Australia.
Nevertheless, Cook is staying wary and not even contemplating a 5-0 whitewash.
“It’s very dangerous to start thinking like that. We are a very good side when we take each game as it comes,” said the opener, who has tall pace bowler Chris Tremlett back in the squad after a long injury layoff.
“It’s great for us as a squad that he is back. He has worked incredibly hard. It’s great for competition for places; it gives you another dimension.”
Tremlett is bidding to unseat third paceman Tim Bresnan but most pundits expect the latter to stay in an unchanged side from Lord’s even though the Old Trafford wicket offers more bounce.
Australia’s lineup is much more uncertain with aggressive batsman David Warner hoping to play after scoring a century for Australia A against South Africa A following his banishment for punching England’s Joe Root in a bar in June.
Number six Steve Smith missed training on Tuesday with a sore back and could make way although Phil Hughes has been the focus of debate in Australian media aghast at the prospect of losing a third straight Ashes series after previous dominance.
Captain Clarke, no longer a selector in the upheaval following Mickey Arthur’s sacking as coach and Darren Lehmann’s appointment just before the series, had no clue about the XI.
“The team has not been given to me at this stage. The selectors want to look at the wicket today to see if it’s changed,” Clarke said before being asked about Warner.
“I don’t think it’s about one individual player. It is going to take the whole squad…for us to win this series. Our backs are against the wall there’s no doubt about it. We are going to have to be at our best.
“I honestly believe we can win this series. I know there’s a lot of people who will laugh at me saying that but I wouldn’t be here today if I thought this team wasn’t good enough to have success. If I didn’t think I could get the best out of the players I certainly wouldn’t be captain of this team.”
Spinner Nathan Lyon is widely expected to replace 19-year-old Ashton Agar, who has struggled with the ball in his first two tests despite scoring 98 as number 11 at Trent Bridge.