Grounds for optimism as England aim to launch comeback at 'lucky' Edgbaston

Angus Fraser reveals why England love playing in front of the football-style crowds in this leafy suburb of Birmingham

Edgbaston has for some time been England's favourite ground. Nasser Hussain, Vaughan's predecessor, used to salivate at the prospect of bringing his side to this leafy suburb in the south of Birmingham, even if it was the location where he relinquished his crown.

England won only two of the five Test matches they played here under Hussain but he loved the passionate and parochial support the crowd gave his team. England's overall record, though, is excellent. In the 40 Test matches this venue has hosted, England have won 20 and lost seven.

Finding reasons why England's win ratio is higher here than at any other ground in this country is not particularly hard. The pitch varies from year to year and there are no quirky features that should freak out the opposition but the biggest influence is the timing of the games. Twenty-four of the Tests played at the ground have been the first matches in a series and this has given England a big advantage.

Australia's poor form at the start of their 100-day tour highlighted how difficult it is to adapt to English conditions, and Edgbaston has been a ground where England have been able to catch out opponents on 12 occasions.

The pitch, which will be monitored closely before tomorrow's second npower Test against Australia, can offer assistance to all. Hussain scored 207 here against Australia in 1997 and Graeme Smith, the South African captain, took England's bowlers for 277 in 2003. And last summer, Andrew Flintoff smashed a career-best 167 and Marcus Trescothick scored a hundred in each innings against the West Indies. But in the last decade, the pitch has also allowed the West Indian fast bowlers and Shane Warne to have some fun.

For a player, the changing-room and the viewing area, positioned at the bottom of a rickety old pavilion, is the worst in the country. At Lord's, Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and The Oval, players get a private balcony which gives you a wonderful raised view of the ground. But here, the batting side sit in a corridor in front of the changing-rooms with a thin pane of glass separating them from the crowd.

I made my Test debut here against Australia in 1989. England had lost heavily in the opening two Test matches at Headingley and Lord's and heavy rain allowed us to leave Birmingham with a draw. Bowling here is a pleasure because the ground is flat and you feel as though you are playing in an enclosed arena.

At Lord's, Headingley and Trent Bridge, bowlers have a slope to contend with, but at Edgbaston they can have no excuse for firing the ball all over the place. When England are winning, the crowd are very supportive and the atmosphere generated is similar to that at a football match.

But, like soccer fans, they can turn, as they did in 1995 when Michael Atherton's side lost to the West Indies before lunch on the third day.

The pitch on this occasion was not made for England. It was rock hard with grassy patches on it. When the ball missed these green spots, the West Indian pacemen were a handful, but when it hit them it was frightening. One ball from Curtly Ambrose, in the first over of the match, hit a green crown and went sailing over Junior Murray's head for four byes.

Ambrose, thankfully, strained a hamstring in his eighth over and left the field but Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Kenneth Benjamin were too hot for England. When I went out to bat, I asked Richard Illingworth what it was like out here. He said: "I've just faced the fastest two balls I've ever faced in my career."

Fortunately he was dismissed before I got hit but I can still see the vision of Robin Smith's battered and bruised body lying on the physiotherapist's bed after he was out.

The crowd was upset with England's inept performance and a couple of them spat at the dressing room windows as we sat reflecting on our heavy defeat. Ray Illingworth, the then chairman of selectors, was jostled and verbally abused as he left the dressing room and this encouraged several of us to stay put and enjoy a few glasses of wine in the sanctity of the physio's room.

The pitch being used for this match will be nothing like that in 1995. The recent storms in the Midlands, along with a tornado last Thursday which missed the ground by 800 yards, have ensured it will be slow and low.

Steve Rouse, the head groundsman, feels that his preparations for this Test have been hampered more than on any previous occasion. "I'm devastated about the pitch," he said. "We work up to this match all season and when weather comes along like that, you can't do anything. I've never been so far behind prior to a Test match. We're probably about four days behind in our preparation - it won't be a quick wicket, that's for sure.

"When the tornado came in, it was frightening and the covers that were supposed to be out there were just floating on top of the water. The wicket has got a crust on the top of it at the moment, but there is still a lot of moisture underneath."

Rouse's views are not those that a batsman wants to hear two days before a Test match, and the under-prepared nature of the pitch could lead to a low-scoring match. Bowlers, in situations like this, have little sympathy for those whose job it is to score runs.

Glenn McGrath's record at Edgbaston is poor. In two Tests here - which were the first in the 1997 and 2001 Ashes series - the Australian fast bowler has taken six wickets at an average of 41.67.

All the fast bowlers should enjoy the conditions, as long as they do not bowl too short. If the sun stays out, Ashley Giles will probably play ahead of Paul Collingwood, but Shane Warne, who has taken 15 wickets in three Tests here, can spin a cricket ball on any surface.

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