Twenty wickets on an Oval pitch? It could happen...

Strauss confident his side can 'cause trouble' on wicket known for producing draws
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The Independent Online

There is never a good time to "go" in the calf. But if all the statistics come home to roost and predictions of a belter prove spot on then a nasty niggle about an hour before start of play at The Oval today might not be such a bad thing. For a bowler, that is.

Yes, this is an Ashes decider – the biggest Test match in England since the little old urn was last at stake, at the same venue, four years ago. And nobody wants to miss it, which is why under-pressure players on both sides were busting a gut during yesterday's final practice session in an attempt to catch their captain's eye.

There are just too many bowlers to go around. For England, only four out of Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar, Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebottom, Graham Onions, James Anderson and Steve Harmison can feature. For Australia, Stuart Clark, Nathan Hauritz and Brett Lee appear to be fighting over one place. But at some stage during the next few days, at least a couple of those who escape the cut may wonder whether playing in the great decider was such an honour after all.

There is a lot of nonsense talked about pitches and not many people can accurately predict just how 22 yards of land will behave over the course of one day, never mind five. So if this Test is done and dusted by Saturday tea-time then do not be too surprised. But the form guide does suggest spells of hard labour for bowlers of all kinds.

True, only three of the last 10 Tests in south London have been drawn. When it comes to county cricket at The Oval this season, though, an X on your coupon never goes amiss. All four first-class matches have ended in stalemate, the average first innings total is 441 and the most recent game, between Surrey and Leicestershire, a fortnight ago, saw more than 1,200 runs scored while only nine wickets were taken. Fancy a bowl, Harmy?

But, as everyone knows, there are lies, damned lies and... "It will be a typical Oval international wicket, a bit of pace and bounce and fair competition between bat and ball," insisted Surrey's operations director Clive Stephens.

"The stats over the last 10 Tests are that England have won five, lost two and drawn three. So the perception that it is a wicket set up to produce draws is a myth."

England need to win but they have not tried to influence the groundstaff. "They realise that what we do here is produce consistently good wickets, year in and year out," added Stephens.

Australia, of course, will not be too fussed if little progress is made and there are handshakes all round late on Monday afternoon with a D in the result column and an Ashes urn to cuddle. But Andrew Strauss is optimistic about the pitch. "I'm confident we can cause some real trouble on this pitch," said England's captain.