London:England's middle-order has an unmistakable brittle look about it in Kevin Pietersen's absence and his substitute Ian Bell is just not capable of filling the void, said spin legend Shane Warne.
In his column for 'The Times', Warne was rather dismissive of the English middle-order for the third Ashes Test starting on Thursday at Edgbaston and felt even a wonky Pietersen is better than a fully-fit Bell.
"Kevin Pietersen's injury couldn't have come at a better time for Ricky Ponting's side, therefore. I know it's only one man, but take Pietersen out and the new middle order of Ian Bell, who I think should bat at No 3, Ravi Bopara, Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior looks quite thin," Warne observed.
"Even though England lead 1-0 and played very well at Lord's, the loss of Pietersen gives Australia a lift. No one can replace Pietersen. Even with a dodgy leg he still had that X factor. Australia were wary of how destructive he could be. They'll take Bell any day," he said.
Warne in fact went on to predict that Peter Siddle, like Glenn McGrath, would expose Bell's chink in the technique.
"I think Peter Siddle could really work him over in the same way Glenn McGrath used to. Bell doesn't like the ball coming back into him he is bowled and leg-before a lot and Siddle will show up the flaws in his technique," he said.
The flamboyant leggie reckoned that comeback man Bell would be greeted by the Australians with the nickname "Shermanator" which Warne had given the Englishman in 2006.
"I remember watching 'American Pie' in the team hotel with Michael Clarke on the fourth evening of the Adelaide Test and when the dorky ginger kid appeared we both started laughing because it reminded us of Bell.
"The next day I was bowling to (Andrew) Strauss, with Bell at the non-striker's end. As I walked to my mark, he seemed to be staring at me, so I just said: "What are you looking at, Shermanator?" It brought a good laugh from the fielders," Warne reminisced.
Warne had equally harsh view of Ravi Bopara. "If Bell has not set the world alight in his ten Ashes matches so far, I think Bopara is one more bad game away from being dropped. To me he is playing for his spot. He still looks very awkward and nervous at the crease," he said.
The leg-spin great advised England to pencil in Steve Harmison for Graham Onions to turn the heat on Australia.
"One Englishman I would be worried about seeing return is Stephen Harmison. I think he should come in for Graham Onions, who bowled OK at Lord's but needs conditions in his favour.
You can rely on him as a back-up, a replacement rather than someone who can lead an attack. Harmison is just nasty and England could do with him back in the side to work over Phillip Hughes," he said.