The ball is white, the sightscreens are black and the players are wearing coloured clothing, but in each NatWest Series match between England and Australia there have been little pointers as to what will happen in the Ashes. And, to date, it is the bowlers - Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Symonds and Michael Hussey have scored runs but are not guaranteed a Test place - who have been winning these contests.
England will be disappointed to have lost to Australia on Thursday but their sorrow will have been tempered by the quality of Stephen Harmison's bowling. In England's limited-overs games against the world champions he has been superb, bowling with pace and control and his hostility has unsettled Australia's top-order.
Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn will play in the first Test and Harmison has dismissed each of them. This will have done his confidence no harm. Nor will the way he has had them hopping about. Australians are used to playing on quick, bouncy pitches but they still look uncomfortable against Harmison.
Ponting was troubled the most. The captain is good against fast bowling but Harmison seems to be targeting him. When the pair came head-to-head at The Riverside the tactics used by England will be similar to those used in the Tests.
With a man out on the hook Harmison peppered Ponting with short balls. The bowling was too fast to hook, so Ponting looked for the cut. Martyn was out in a similar way during England's win over Australia in Bristol and third man could be a wicket-taking position during the Tests.
But Harmison is not the only bowler to have gained a psychological advantage. Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick have given England fans little to cheer in the two matches against Australia. Each has looked far from convincing against a bowling attack which is getting better.
Trescothick ct Gilchrist b McGrath. It happened on Thursday and it will happen again. The opener has butchered Bangladesh, but Glenn McGrath has got him cheaply in each game.
There was little the left-hander could do about the in-swinging yorker that bowled him in Bristol, but his dismissal in Durham was more worrying. Trescothick is strong outside off-stump when the bowling is off target. But when it is on the button, which is where McGrath and Jason Gillespie specialise, he is vulnerable.
Strauss also scores heavily through the off-side, but he needs to show better shot selection against Australia's quicks - he has twice dragged-on attacking when he should have been blocking. Brett Lee was outstanding in Chester-le-Street, where his opening spell must have earned him selection for the first Test, and both he and McGrath will look to swing the ball back into Strauss.
The Australia and England batsmen will have a chance to cure their ailments this weekend against Bangladesh. In Manchester, Australia will today be looking to avenge their embarrassing defeat, while England's willow-wielders will try to fill their boots at Headingley tomorrow.
Trescothick is set to lead England again while Michael Vaughan rests his groin. The captain will want to play at his home ground but Tuesday's day/nighter against Australia is a more realistic goal.
- More about:
- Brett Lee
- Bristol (england)
- Glenn Mcgrath
- Kevin Pietersen
- Marcus Trescothick
- Michael Vaughan