Aust mull toss and XI for Ashes opener

The chat last week was England could play two tweakers in the Ashes opener, which starts on Wednesday in Cardiff.

Having inspected the pitch, Michael Clarke isn’t sure Australia will play one.

Spin-friendly Sophia Gardens was considered a surprise choice for the first Test when the fixtures were announced last year.

The venue has certainly stunned the Australian camp, which had previously been spruiking Nathan Lyon’s potential to unsettle England’s many left-handed batsmen.

“It’s got a lot of grass on it. It’s surprising how much grass is on it,” Clarke said of the strip that will decide who takes the early advantage in the five-Test series.

“The selectors – I think they’ll contemplate playing four fast bowlers if the wicket stays like that.

“As much as I always love having a spinner in the team, you’ve got to pick the best XI for the conditions.”

Clarke added he would have no hesitation in sending the opposition in on day one of an Ashes, a tactic that famously backfired in 2002 for Nasser Hussain at the Gabba.

“If the wicket’s how it is today and you win the toss, you’d definitely bowl first. I think both teams would do that,” he said.

The reality is the pitch is likely to look a lot different on Wednesday at 8pm (AEST), when Australia start their campaign to win a Test series in England for the first time since 2001.

However, rain and overcast conditions might limit what the curator can achieve before day one.

“It’ll come down to what England are after – if they want grass cut off, I’m sure they’ll cut it off,” Clarke said.

“If they’re worried about spin bowling, they’ll leave more grass on it.

“I don’t really care, to be honest.

“If we can adapt and play our best cricket, I’m confident of success.”

For all the recent conjecture about Australia’s XI for the first Test, it looks to be fairly settled.

Selectors are expected to bank on Shane Watson’s experience and control with the ball ahead of younger allrounder Mitch Marsh’s power batting and bowling ability.

Chris Rogers is set to return from concussion and open alongside David Warner, replacing Shaun Marsh in the team.

Lyon is likely to play, although Peter Siddle is adding to the case for a four-prong pace attack.

“Sidds was unplayable in the nets … and he was probably the pick of the bowlers in the last tour game,” Clarke said.

England captain Alastair Cook didn’t comment on his side’s spin selection showdown between Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, but agreed Cardiff could potentially be a paceman’s paradise.

“The grass on English wickets can keep the pace and bounce in it more than you see abroad,” Cook said.

Both Clarke and Cook downplayed the importance of past series and weren’t ready to look further ahead than this week.

“Beating teams in their own backyard is always the toughest part of our game and I’m sure this series will be no different,” Clarke said of Australia’s 14-year wait for Ashes success in England.

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