The Ashes, Preview: England, Australia brace for royal encounter

Updated: 18 July 2013 08:34 IST

The Ashes in its second Test promises to be another thrilling encounter with hosts England looking to cement their lead while Australia hope to bounce back and get on level terms.


You know there's something fairly important happening when the Queen decides to show up. In cricket, for the players and the fans, there are few things that bear as much resonance as a Test match at Lord's. Make that an Ashes Test on a warm summer's day with England already 1-0 up, and you have all the trappings of an occasion that needs no hyping.

By a special dispensation, the first day of the second Ashes Test, starting at Lord's on Thursday (July 18), will begin 15 minutes late as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II will start the proceedings, walking out on to the field to be introduced to the players of the two teams. The Queen, who is a patron of the Marylebone Cricket Club, will meet the coaches and support staff of the two teams in the Long Room, before taking her seat at in the MCC balcony to take in the action for as long as she likes. (Also read: Aus say Mickey Arthur lawsuit no Ashes distraction)

The presence of the Queen, local experts suggest, is a positive omen for England, as her last visit coincided with Australia slumping from 103 for 2 to 158 for 8 in 2009. Whether Michael Clarke's team will be similarly obliging, of course, remains to be seen. (Related: Ricky Ponting sticks to Australia win prediction)

For his part, Clarke has suggested that Lord's was a 'home ground' of sorts, thanks to the record Australia has built at the ground over the years. In 36 Tests at the venue, Australia has won 16 and lost six with 14 being drawn. "I'd definitely say that our historic record here is relevant. It feels like a home ground, I guess, for us. Every single team that has the opportunity to play on this fantastic ground really looks forward to it and I'm sure England are no different," said Clarke on the eve of the Test.

"I don't know the main reason as to why Australia has had so much success on this beautiful oval but I think it's something we should be very proud of and hopefully it's a tradition we'll continue to fulfill. It's a beautiful ground; we're very lucky to have this opportunity to play here. It's something you certainly write into the diary when you find out the Ashes series is on."

Alastair Cook may not be so much in awe of Lord's, given how often he has played at the venue, but he did concede that the grandeur of the venue lifted visiting teams. "It could be inspirational for visiting teams to play at Lord's, possibly. It's an incredible place to play cricket and I think as an England side we're very lucky to get to play here so often," he said. "Over the last few years our record at Lord's has improved a hell of a lot. It's one of those things we've spoken about as a side, not that we had much to do with those records before. I do remember in 2009 speaking about it, the fact we hadn't won against Australia here for a long period of time and it'd be great to change that." (Suggested read: England face tough choice over second Test bowling attack)

For Clarke, while the occasion was something to embrace and soak in, there were more urgent things to worry about. The pitch, for starters, appeared to be more in line with what you would expect from an English surface than the bone dry 22 yards served up in Nottingham. This meant that the selection group - of which Clarke is not a part, as he never fails to point out - was leaving it until late to finalise the playing XI.

In Nottingham, the team was decided a clear 48 hours before the Test but at Lord's it won't be until minutes before the toss and a final assessment of the conditions.

With the Ashton Agar rabbit out of the hat, Australia had potentially two decisions to make with respect to personnel changes. The first was the possibility of bringing Usman Khawaja into the line-up in place of Ed Cowan, who racked up scores of 0 and 14 in the first Test, and struggled, not only with illness but also shot selection. Australia may also be tempted to pick either Ryan Harris or Jackson Bird - both conventional-swing specialists - ahead of Mitchell Starc.

England, meanwhile, was well placed to go into the Test without making any changes, given Steven Finn's record at Lord's and the relative success of all other players in the first Test. Unless, of course, the Queen has some views on team selection. (Also read: Matt Prior says he is fit for second Test)

Teams (from)

England: Alastair Cook (capt), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Steven Finn, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Graham Onions.

Australia: Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Michael Clarke (capt), Steve Smith, Phil Hughes, Brad Haddin (wk), Ashton Agar, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, Ed Cowan, James Faulkner, Nathan Lyon.

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