The selection speculation now surrounding Glenn McGrath’s almost
miraculous recovery from his ankle injury sounds like psychological
warfare designed to fray the nerves of England and its supporters. Yet
with McGrath training strongly in Manchester overnight – who would dare
bet against him? If he does get up to play it will certainly put the Poms
on edge and provide enormous encouragement to his teammates.

But along with
the glee of the Aussie camp at McGrath’s accelerating recovery is the certainty
that at least Brett Lee will play after his hospitalisation for a knee
infection. But the biggest question mark aside from McGrath is whether Stuart
MacGill will be asked to bowl in tandem with Shane Warne. For a player always on good terms with
himself, MacGill has been a wonder to behold in the last week as he’s talked
himself up for being well-suited to conditions at Old Trafford. Even though the
rock hard pitch suggests it’s tailor made for the England quicks and not our
tweakers (unless your name is Warne, and then no pitch or team is safe from your
beguiling intrigues).

Also somewhat lost amongst the blitz of medical bulletin updates on
McGrath and Lee, and just one raised finger away, is the historic and
monumental record 600th Test wicket for Warne. But then, when every
wicket you take these days is a world record you can get a little blasé
about yet another. But the first man ever to 600 is indeed going where
no man has ever gone before. For all his obvious human failings, when
Warne does finally depart the Test scene, like Garry Ablett or Babe
Ruth, he’ll ultimately be remembered by fans for his playing legacy,
not his dysfunctional personal life.

What is
already in play in this amazing and intoxicating Ashes series is an
Australian selection table nightmare of possibilities. The bowling
permutations leave so many questions waiting for final answers, let alone the dressing room next door.
It’s also a welcome diversion for a couple of our batsmen who can be
grateful that the spotlight has been turned away from them, but then again, not after this
Test if some are found wanting again.

How Nine must
be kicking themselves, as they should, for not sticking by its own biggest summer
sport, where loyalty sometimes brings unexpected rewards. That the Ashes
is so fundamentally alive and kicking and pregnant with astonishing
possibilities between the world’s two greatest traditional sporting enemies
transcends mere sport. Premier League bosses must be shaking their heads in
befuddlement that as the UK’s biggest sport kicks off this weekend, most of the
talk in the High street is about cricket – lovely cricket! Kerry Packer used to appreciate that better
than most!

weather forecast suggests the weather is looking OK with “occasional isolated
showers on Saturday and sunny intervals the rest of the