Ricky Ponting is looking for Australia to capitalise on the absence of Kevin Pietersen and target the England middle order during the third Test match at Edgbaston starting today.
The captain believes England look more vulnerable with Pietersen sidelined for the remainder of the series with his Achilles problem.
Ponting is aware that replacement Ian Bell has struggled to make an impression against Australia, the holders of the Ashes who will be striving to level the series after England’s comfortable win at Lord’s.
Ponting said: “I think the England middle order has a different feeling about it at the moment with Pietersen not being in the side.
“I was listening a lot to what Ian has had to say in the week about his record against Australia not being as good as every other team he has played against. There is a great opportunity for us to get into that middle order a little bit as we were able to do during the first Test in Cardiff.
“The big partnership between Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss at Lord’s made it a bit difficult for us to do that. But we are hoping to get the openers out this week and get that middle order out there against a relatively new and shiny hard ball. If we are able to do that I think we can do some damage.
“Bell is a good player and he has shown that throughout his career to date but we do feel their batting is slightly weakened with Pietersen not being in their line-up.
“Pietersen is one of the better and more-dominant players in world cricket. They haven’t got that guy anymore. I do believe England look at him to give them something. We will see over the next five days if anything has changed.
“We’ve known for a week that Kevin wasn’t going to be around and we’ve had a chance to get our plans right for the guys who are playing.
“It is about execution now and we know what we need to do and where we need to bowl and hopefully we can do that for long periods in this game.”
Ponting is hoping to make Andrew Strauss revise his opinion of Australia after the England captain said they had lost some of the aura they once possessed.
He said: “It is okay for Andrew to say that now. I am not sure he was saying it after Cardiff. I think we had it well and truly over most of their batsmen down there. As we know, with any sort of aura, or feeling that you get against playing opposition sides, it is something that is built up over a period of time.
“We have got some reasonably fresh faces in our group that are just starting to find their feet at international level so it is inevitable the aura of a side is going to change but it also changes with performance as well.
“If we happen to come out and play well in this Test then I am sure they will be thinking differently after this game than they are at the moment.
“It is about having a group of guys who are playing well, who are on top of their game, and are all heading in the same direction. That is how you create aura, with some stand-out performances. That is what we will be trying to achieve over the coming weeks.
“Do England have an aura about them? I don’t think it really matters. It is something that is generated over a period of time with some excellent play.
“I don’t see how you can create an aura without winning everything and being on top. It is just impossible to do. England’s current Test rating would probably indicate they don’t have one.”
Of his own team, he said: “I am relatively happy with how things are going and how the feeling has been around the group since we lost that last Test match. There has certainly been a lot of attention focused on Mitchell Johnson from everyone. But I am a bit more worried about the weather than anything else to tell the truth. We will make sure that if we get on tomorrow morning we are right to go.”
Australia will consider changes with all-rounder Shane Watson a potential replacement for Marcus North at number six. That would allow Johnson to be used as part of a five-man attack, which should alleviate the pressure on him.
Only Brett Lee (rib) is unavailable as Australia mull over their options while Stuart Clark, top wicket-taker in the 2006-07 series, will come into the equation, although not at the expense of spinner Nathan Hauritz it would seem.
“I was a bit surprised when we arrived yesterday how dry the wicket was,” Ponting said. “Through the course of this game, with reasonable weather, there’s a chance of it spinning.”
Any time lost to the elements would benefit England, as it would lessen the prospect of an Australian win.