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Ricky Ponting retires from Test cricket

Former Australia captain Ponting announces retirement from Test cricket on eve of third Test against South Africa

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UPDATED:

07:06 GMT, 29 November 2012

Ricky Ponting has set his sights on a fairytale finish to his Australia career after announcing he will retire at the end of the third Test against South Africa.

Ponting, 37, will call time on a storied international career as the second highest run-scorer in Test history and the most successful captain of all time with 48 Test wins.

He cited recent struggles with the bat as the reason for his dramatic eve-of-Test announcement but holds out hope of a fitting final chapter against the Proteas in Perth.

Legend: Ponting is Australia's most successful captain

Legend: Ponting is Australia's most successful captain

Victory for the hosts would see them move back to first place in the ICC rankings and Ponting is fully focused on bowing out on familiar territory – on top of the world.

Ponting declined to offer a lengthy retrospective of his Baggy Green career – though he promised that would follow later – and instead outlined his burning desire to secure one last win.

'A few hours ago I let the team know my decision to make this Test my last. It’s a decision I thought long and hard about but at the end of the day it’s based on my results and my output in this series so far,' he said, after scoring nought and four in his last two knocks.

'It hasn’t been what I expect of myself or to the level I feel is required for batsmen in the Australia team.

World class: 'Punter' will go down as one of the best batsmen in Test history

World class: 'Punter' will go down as one of the best batsmen in Test history

World class: 'Punter' will go down as one of the best batsmen in Test history

'I continued to play as long as I felt I could contribute to wins but over the last couple of weeks I felt my level of performance has not been good enough to do that.

'My passion and love of the game has not changed one bit over the last 12-18 months, where things haven’t been as I’d have liked or pictured them.

'But as far as I’m concerned my immediate focus – and the focus of the team – is on what we’re presented with tomorrow. It’s an unbelievable opportunity in what is almost a grand final situation.

'I’ve prepared this week and I’m hungrier than ever. I want this win more than any game I’ve ever played in.

Old foe: Ponting and Andrew Flintoff face-off during the 2006-07 Ashes series

Old foe: Ponting and Andrew Flintoff face-off during the 2006-07 Ashes series

'If that happensd to lead to a win for the team and we get back to the top of the tree and No 1 in the world then there’s no better time to finish.'

The Perth Test will be Ponting’s 168th, meaning he will finish his career level with former captain Steve Waugh as Australia’s most-capped Test player.

Heading into his final match the Tasmanian, who will turn 38 next month, has scored an Australian-record 13,366 runs at an average of 52.21, including 41 centuries and a highest score of 257.

Ponting’s retirement comes nine months after he quit the one-day international arena and just under two years after he relinquished the captaincy of the Test squad following the 2010/11 Ashes loss.

Best ever: Ponting has more Test wins than any other Australia captain

Best ever: Ponting has more Test wins than any other Australia captain

His 41 Test wins as captain was another Australian record, although his leadership will also be remembered for three Ashes defeats, the first of them in 2005 coming after his country had held the famous urn for 16 years.

After making his debut in 1995/96 against Sri Lanka, scoring 96 before being given out LBW to a delivery that appeared set to bounce over the top of the stumps, Ponting became Australia’s most prolific batsman.

His international career will now wind down at the same ground where it began against Sri Lanka.

Bowing out: Ponting will play his last Test against South Africa

Bowing out: Ponting will play his last Test against South Africa

Ponting was named ICC Player of the Year twice, in 2006 and ‘07, the international body’s Test player of the year three times – in 2003, ‘04 and ‘06 – won the Allan Border Medal in 2004, ‘06, ‘07 and ‘09 and as well as being the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2006 was also CricInfo’s Player of the Decade for 2000-09.

He will play out the remainder of the summer with Tasmania and confirmed he will still play in the Big Bash with Hobart Hurricanes.

RICKY PONTING FACTFILE

1974: Born December 19 in Launceston, Tasmania.
1986: At the age of 12 he signs a bat contract with Kookaburra.
1992: Scores 56 against South Australia in his first-class debut for Tasmania, aged 17.
1995: February – Makes one-day international debut for Australia against South Africa aged 20, but is bowled by Eric Simons for one.
December – Makes Test debut against Sri Lanka, scoring 96.
1996: January – Makes his first ODI century with 123 against Sri Lanka.
March – At 21, becomes youngest batsman to score a World Cup century with 102 against the West Indies.
1997: Records his first Test century with 127 against England at Headingley in his first Ashes innings. However, he was in and out of the Test team for the next two years.
1999: A fight outside a pub in Kings Cross, Sydney earns him a suspension, but later in the year a century against the West Indies sees him cement his place.
2002: When Steve Waugh is dropped, Ponting vaults over vice-captain Adam Gilchrist to become Australia's ODI captain.
2003: Leads the team undefeated through the 2003 World Cup and makes an unbeaten 140 in the final.
2004: Steve Waugh's retirement opens the door for Ponting to assume the Test captaincy, and he wins his debut match against Sri Lanka in Galle in March.
2005: September – Becomes first Australia captain since Allan Border to experience Ashes defeat as England win a thrilling series 2-1.
Ponting scores 1,544 runs in the calendar year, an Australian record.
2006: January – Becomes the only player to mark his 100th Test with a century in each innings, scoring 120 and 143no against South Africa in Sydney.
March – Scores 164 from only 105 balls in the fifth ODI against South Africa in Johannesburg, but sees the Proteas make 438 for nine in reply to Australia's 434 for four.
December – Leads Australia to a 5-0 whitewash of England with his two centuries seeing him pass Waugh's record of 32 Test tons for Australia.
2007: April – In a World Cup match against South Africa in St Kitts, Ponting passes the 10,000-run mark in ODIs, the first Australian to reach the mark and seventh man in the world. Australia win the World Cup undefeated.
2008: January – Victory in the second Test against India makes it 16 in a row for Ponting's Australia, tying a record. India win the next Test in Perth to end the run.
May – Scores his 10,000th Test run against the West Indies in Antigua. Border and Steve Waugh are the only other Australians to reach the mark.
2009: August – Having scored 150 in the first Test in Cardiff, Ponting's team lose another Ashes series in England. 2-1 win.
September – Retires from Twenty20 internationals.
October – Australia win the ICC Champions Trophy with Ponting the tournament's leading run-scorer. He becomes the third man to pass 12,000 ODI runs.
2010: January – Named by an elite panel as the world player of the decade.
December – Ashes series sees Ponting lose the urn to England for a third time, this time in front of Australian crowds. He struggles for runs as England win the series 3-1.
2011: February/March – After missing a 6-1 one-day series win over England through injury, Ponting returns to lead Australia in the World Cup but his century is not enough to stop them losing to India in the quarter-finals.
March 29 – Resigns as captain of Australia but says he wants to play on for the team.
2012: January – Scores 134 and 221 against India in a return to form, passing 13,000 Test runs in the process.
February 20 – Dropped from the one-day side for matches against Sri Lanka and India.
February 21 – Announces his retirement from one-day internationals, but vows to play on in Test cricket.
November 29 – Announces the third Test against South Africa will be his last before retiring from Test cricket after scores of four, seven, 23, zero and four in his last five innings.

Bo van Pelt wins Perth International

Van Pelt holds nerve to edge out Dufner and clinch maiden European Tour title in Perth

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UPDATED:

10:35 GMT, 21 October 2012

Bo van Pelt clinched his first victory on the European Tour with a two-shot triumph in the ISPS HANDA Perth International.

American Van Pelt came into the final day with a one-stroke lead after holing a 60-foot birdie putt on the 18th on Saturday and picked up a shot on the first on Sunday to set the tone for his round.

He finished on 16 under overall after carding a 68 to beat compatriot Jason Dufner by two shots, with first-round leader Alejandro Canizares three strokes further back in third.

Pretty in pink: Bo van Pelt celebrates winning the Perth International

Pretty in pink: Bo van Pelt celebrates winning the Perth International

'Jason and I had a great battle and played well. It definitely got tight there at the end but luckily for me I came out on top,' Van Pelt told the European Tour website.

'Lake Karrinyup was a great test of golf all week. It's been a battle; the wind blew, the greens were firm and fast, and it was just a joy to play all week.

'Whenever you get a lead you want to take advantage of it so it was nice to finish one off this week.'

Holding his nerve: Van Pelt beat his countryman Jason Dufner to the title

Holding his nerve: Van Pelt beat his countryman Jason Dufner to the title

Van Pelt demonstrated nerves of steel around the green and rolled in from 15 feet at the seventh to turn in 32, before picking up his fourth and fifth birdies of the day immediately afterwards.

He two-putted at the 15th to give Dufner hopes of catching up but Van Pelt birdied the next and another dropped shot at the 17th proved inconsequential after Dufner had bogeyed the 16th.

Paul Casey finished in a tie for fifth – alongside fellow Englishman David Howell, Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Rhys Davies of Wales – after a marvellous final round of 67.

Frustrated: Dufner finished two shots behind Van Pelt after their respective final rounds

Frustrated: Dufner finished two shots behind Van Pelt after their respective final rounds

The 35-year-old Casey has struggled for form this season after suffering a dislocated shoulder in a snowboarding accident last Christmas but is showing signs of getting back to his best and finished on eight under overall – one stroke behind fourth-placed Michael Hendry.

Perth International: Live leaderboard

Perth International leaderboard: Keep up to date with the scores

The European Tour is in Australia this week for the inaugural Perth International.

Jason Dufner and Charl Schwartzel are two of the big names on show and you can keep track of all the latest scores right here.

CLICK HERE FOR THE LIVE LEADERBOARD

Big gun: Charl Schwartzel is going for glory at the Perth International

Big gun: Charl Schwartzel is going for glory at the Perth International

Brad Jones ready to start against West Brom

Jones living the dream as keeper set for Liverpool berth for West Brom clash

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UPDATED:

22:37 GMT, 25 September 2012

Brad Jones affords himself a wry smile as he recounts a conversation that he vividly remembers taking place 22 years ago.

It took place in the classroom of his school in Perth and it was one with which everyone would be familiar; it was the day when a teacher came around and asked each pupil to boldly declare what they wanted to be when they grew up.

‘He came up to me asked what I was going to be – I told him that I was going to play for Liverpool,’ said Jones, taking up the story.

Ready: Brad Jones has been a fan of Liverpool since he was a young boy

Ready: Brad Jones has been a fan of Liverpool since he was a young boy

‘He replied: “no, no – what do you really want to do.”

The other kids were saying things like fireman, policeman or whatever. I was the only one who played football.

‘So when I said I wanted to play for Liverpool it was like “okay, move on, next.’

It was a long time ago when I was living in the suburbs of Perth, where no-one played football. A few people from school have been in touch since, thanks to Facebook and Twitter.

‘They saying things like ‘we saw you on TV, we never doubted you.’

It’s funny going back because the school’s exactly the same – there are still no football pitches. It’s just Aussie Rules and cricket there. But it was always football for me.’

Jones is in good spirits as he takes a trip down memory lane.

It is common for new Liverpool signings to say that they supported the club all their lives but there is no spin on the tale the goalkeeper tells.

His mother’s family come from Liverpool and he still has memorabilia dating back to the 1980s.

‘I’m sure there are photos of me at 6, 7, or 8 years old running about the house in every kit there was,’ said Jones, who will start Wednesday’s Capital One Cup tie at West Bromwich with Brendan Rodgers expected to ring the changes.

‘My mum’s family used to send them over. I had every poster, every magazine and my dad’s still got the 1987 yearbook, even though it’s in bits now. This was not just a move for me, it was an achievement.

‘There were two things I said when I was eight. One was that I was going to play for Australia. The other was playing for Liverpool.’

He may have to play second fiddle to Pepe Reina but there is no doubting the pride Jones has in telling people he plays for Liverpool and to spend time in his company, it is clear to see he is now in a much happier place.

Standing in the way: Pepe Reina is first choice for the Reds

Standing in the way: Pepe Reina is first choice for the Reds

The past year, after all, has been the hardest of his life. He lost his little boy, Luca, last November after prolonged battle with illness.

The pain and grief of losing a child will never leave a parent but he has evidently found a way of managing.

‘A year ago football was on the back burner to be honest,’ said Jones. ‘It wasn’t something I was too worried about.

'It was difficult at the time do to both. To have what was going on in my personal life and come in to push and get a game was not going to work.

‘This season is completely different. I came in probably three or four weeks before I was due back because I was itching to get going, because I felt this was the year I really had to crack on. It’s about showing Brendan (Rodgers) I am worthy of being here.’

With Brazilian goalkeeper Doni away from the club for personal reasons, Jones will continue to play back up to Reina and will be ready to take his chance when opportunities such as the one at The Hawthorns emerge.

Focused: Jones is willing to take whatever opportunities he can get under Rodgers

Focused: Jones is willing to take whatever opportunities he can get under Rodgers

‘Playing two, three, four games or whatever was great but I don’t just want that,’ said Jones, who was signed by Roy Hodgson from Middlesbrough for 2million in August 2010.

‘There is something about coming in every day that makes everything you have sacrificed worthwhile.

‘I would not walk away at all if I was given the opportunity to stay. When I got the phone call to say Liverpool were interested it was unbelievable, but last year was hard because I wasn’t involved and it did get to a point where I started thinking I’d have to look at something else.

‘I couldn’t justify sitting there as a No 3. The difference now is I get these opportunities and as long as I keep proving I can do it, hopefully I will get more.

'For as long as the manager wants me at the club, I am willing to be here.’

No wonder. It has, after all, has been his life’s ambition.

Michael Vaughan Twitter appeal after late star Ben Hollioake"s parents house is burgled

Vaughan in Twitter appeal after thieves burgle late Hollioake's prizes

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UPDATED:

12:01 GMT, 18 April 2012

Michael Vaughan led calls to catch thieves who have stolen Ben Hollioake's England cricket property from the late all-rounder's parents' house.

Hollioake, who died in a car crash in his native Perth at the age of 24 in 2002, won two Test caps and 20 in one-day internationals for England.

Police have recovered some of the equipment stolen by burglars after Hollioake's brother Adam this morning alerted the world to a crime which robbed him and his parents of treasured items associated with Ben's tragically short international career.

Appeal: Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen have urged for the thieves to return the stolen property

Appeal: Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen have urged for the thieves to return the stolen property

'Please help find the idiots who have broken into @adamhollioake parents' house and stole Ben's England possessions,' Vaughan wrote.

It is not yet clear exactly which items were stolen in the break-in at the Hollioakes' home in Perth on Tuesday, but Vaughan urged all in Australia and elsewhere to be vigilant in case they appear for sale online or otherwise.

Burgled: Late England all-rounder ben Hollioake's parents' hous in Perth was burgled with some of his possessions stolen

Burgled: Late England all-rounder ben Hollioake's parents' hous in Perth was burgled with some of his possessions stolen

England batsman Kevin Pietersen, currently playing in the Indian Premier League, also used Twitter to reiterate Vaughan's call to help make sure Hollioake's England equipment is recovered.

Pietersen tweeted: 'Please help find the idiots who have broken into @adamhollioake parents house and stole Ben's England possessions.'

The equipment includes many ODI shirts, Test and ODI helmets as well as bats, boots and Hollioake's Surrey blazer.

Brad Jones set for Liverpool v Everton clash after Alexander Doni red card

Liverpool's keeper crisis deepens as Doni's red card leaves No 3 Jones set for Wembley

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UPDATED:

08:48 GMT, 11 April 2012

Brad Jones will be thrust into the spotlight at Wembley after Liverpool’s goalkeeper crisis deepened at Blackburn.

The Australian saved Yakubu’s penalty with his first touch before Andy Carroll secured a last-gasp 3-2 win for the visitors, who played for 65 minutes with 10 men after No 2 keeper Alexander Doni was sent off for the foul on Yakubu which led to the penalty.

Over and out: Doni saw red for this foul on Hoilett

Over and out: Doni saw red for this foul on Hoilett

Doni’s red card, coupled with Pepe Reina
serving the final match of his three-game ban, means Jones will play
against Everton in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final.

Jones lost his five-year-old son Luca
to leukaemia in November but last week partner Dani gave birth to a boy
named Nico. ‘The supporters have been brilliant,’ said Jones.

Push off: Jones comes into contact with Yakubu

Push off: Jones comes into contact with Yakubu, conceding a penalty

‘It’s been a difficult 18 months with
my son passing away, so that was for him and also for them giving the
support that they have‘My girlfriend just gave birth to a little boy so
it’s been a big week. Now it’s just about preparing for the FA Cup
semi-final and making sure I’m ready.’

Jones had not been part of a
Liverpool squad until last weekend and the 30-year-old might have been
sent off himself in the second half after bringing down Yakubu for
another penalty, but referee Anthony Taylor opted to book him.

Dramatic winner: Carroll pounces to give Liverpool the points

Dramatic winner: Carroll pounces to give Liverpool the points

WHO IS LIVERPOOL'S NO 3 KEEPER

Even though he wears the No 1 at
Liverpool, Brad Jones, 30, has been a back-up keeper most of his career,
making only 119 appearances in 13 years.

Where’s he been hiding

Born in Perth, Western Australia, the 6ft 3in shot stopper signed for Middlesbrough in March 1999. Had to wait until 2004 to make his debut but won a League Cup winner’s medal as a sub against Bolton.

What game time has he had

Became a regular for Boro during 2009-10, playing 24 times. Roy Hodgson took him to Anfield for 2million in August 2010.

Off the field he’s had a hard time, hasn’t he

In November last year his five-year-old son, Luca, died after an 18-month battle with leukaemia. But on April 4 his partner, Dani Lawrence, gave birth to another child, Nico Luca Jones. On Tuesday night, Miss Lawrence tweeted: ‘Me and Nico are so proud of you, whatever the final score is. Luca is watching #rip’

Blackburn manager Steve Kean had no
argument with that decision and Kenny Dalglish agreed with Taylor’s call
to show yellow rather than red, though the Liverpool boss declined to
comment on the sending-off of Doni before he had seen a replay.

His club’s fourth-choice keeper Peter
Gulacsi is on loan at Championship side Hull but Dalglish said they
have yet to decide whether to recall the Hungarian. The only other
option is 18-year-old Danny Ward.

Dalglish’s side will face a 25,000
FA fine after having five players booked but they will head into the
season-defining showdown with Everton on a high after two goals from
Maxi Rodriguez and Carroll’s flying header.

The manager said: ‘It was great for
Brad’s first contribution for Liverpool in the Premier League to be a
penalty save. You have to give the boys credit after all the abuse they
have had recently. We will enjoy this win.’

Dalglish praised his players after they recovered from squandering a two-goal lead and Doni's sending off.

'We can't speak highly enough of the effort and commitment of the players. We went 2-0 up and then went down to 10 men,' Dalglish said.

'The supporters drove them forward and in the second half they came out and did really well.

Relieved: Dalglish (left) was pleased with the effort of his players

Relieved: Dalglish (left) was pleased with the effort of his players

'At the end of the day we just about deserved to win. We are delighted for the players – it has not been the best of times for them.

'It doesn't mean to say we have turned any corners but it gives everyone a lift.'

Unlike on Saturday after the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa when Dalglish criticised decisions made by the referee, he would not comment on the issues arising out of Tuesday night's game.

No 1: Jones will start against Everton at Wembley

No 1: Jones will start against Everton at Wembley

'We are delighted with the result and the three points and the only way we can handle the post-match press conference is to praise the players,' he added.

'At the end of the day we are not going to start talking about contentious decisions which happened on the pitch because I've not seen them.

'I'm not trying to be evasive, I'm trying to be practical and factually correct. Once I've seen them I will be better educated.

Dejected: Kean felt that Hanley has fouled in the build-up to Carroll's goal

Dejected: Kean felt that Hanley has fouled in the build-up to Carroll's goal

'There is no point asking about anyone's sending off or anything else until we have seen the coverage.'

Kean felt Liverpool’s winning goal should have been ruled out after Martin Skrtel tangled with Grant Hanley in the build-up.

The Rovers boss said: ‘We feel there
was a blatant mistake. Maybe not by the referee but certainly by the
linesman. I never have a go at referees but we needed that flag to go
up.'

Doni red card puts Liverpool No 3 keeper Brad Jones in pole position for Wembley appearance

What have you Doni Liverpool's keeper crisis deepens after red card

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UPDATED:

22:11 GMT, 10 April 2012

Liverpool's FA Cup hopes suffered a huge blow when Alexander Doni, in for the banned Pepe Reina, was sent off for fouling Junior Hoilett.

Third-choice stopper Brad Jones escaped with a booking for shoving Yakubu and could now face Everton in Saturday’s Wembley semi-final.

Over and out: Doni saw red for this foul on Hoilett

Over and out: Doni saw red for this foul on Hoilett

Kenny Dalglish refused to discuss Doni's dismissal after 10-man Liverpool beat Blackburn 3-2, recording only their third win in the Barclays Premier League this season.

Maxi Rodriguez had already scored twice to seemingly put Liverpool in control, but after seeing Jones save his penalty, Yakubu pulled a goal back before half-time and then netted a second-half penalty, before Andy Carroll's dramatic winner.

Push off: Jones comes into contact with Yakubu

Push off: Jones comes into contact with Yakubu, conceding a penalty

Dalglish refused to answer any questions about the performance of referee Anthony Taylor.

'We're not going to discuss the decision of the referee,' Dalglish told Sky Sports 1.

When pressed he added: 'We are not going to discuss it now. I don't intend to discuss it.'

Dramatic winner: Carroll pounces to give Liverpool the points

Dramatic winner: Carroll pounces to give Liverpool the points

WHO IS LIVERPOOL'S NO 3 KEEPER

Even though he wears the No 1 at
Liverpool, Brad Jones, 30, has been a back-up keeper most of his career,
making only 119 appearances in 13 years.

Where’s he been hiding

Born in Perth, Western Australia, the 6ft 3in shot stopper signed for Middlesbrough in March 1999. Had to wait until 2004 to make his debut but won a League Cup winner’s medal as a sub against Bolton.

What game time has he had

Became a regular for Boro during 2009-10, playing 24 times. Roy Hodgson took him to Anfield for 2million in August 2010.

Off the field he’s had a hard time, hasn’t he

In November last year his five-year-old son, Luca, died after an 18-month battle with leukaemia. But on April 4 his partner, Dani Lawrence, gave birth to another child, Nico Luca Jones. On Tuesday night, Miss Lawrence tweeted: ‘Me and Nico are so proud of you, whatever the final score is. Luca is watching #rip’

Dalglish preferred to concentrate on the performance of his players.

He added: 'To get a man sent off and come away from here with a victory speaks great credit for them. It's been a smashing day for us.'

When asked about Jones' foul on Yakubu which led to the second penalty and to a yellow card for the Australian, Dalglish responded: 'I don't think he deserved to be sent off. The referee made the right decision.'

Jones drew on his time when he was a team-mate of Yakubu at Middlesbrough to help him guess which way the Nigerian would choose to shoot from the penalty spot.

'On Fridays we used to practise penalties a lot so I knew his style and what he does,' he said.

Jones, whose girlfriend gave birth to a son Nico Luca a week ago, following the death of his son Luca from leukaemia in November, thanked the Liverpool supporters.

He said: 'The supporters have been brilliant. It's been a difficult 18 months with my son passing away. That was for him.'

Jones put himself in contention for a Wembley appearance and said of that game: 'It's a big game and now it's just about preparing for that.'

England must hit back hard against Pakistan

Quest to join the greatest! England must hit back hard to keep their mission alive

England showed their character and mettle by hitting back strongly and winning the Ashes twice after crushing defeats by Australia at Headingley and Perth during their rise to the top of the Test game.

This time could be different. This time will be a true test of their desire to be considered one of the greatest teams to have played the game. It will be the ultimate test of their powers of recovery because defeating Pakistan here in alien conditions in the second Test will be devilishly difficult.

Thinking time: Strauss will be keen for his side to bounce back from their first-Test defeat

Thinking time: Strauss will be keen for his side to bounce back from their first-Test defeat

For a start, no team has won a Test at the Sheik Zayed Stadium – OK, there have only ever been two of them here but they were both high-scoring draws – and the wicket being prepared for Wednesday's match looked like the flattest of surfaces.

Also, conditions were very much in England's favour when they moved on to The Oval in 2009 and Melbourne at the end of 2010 after defeats that could have knocked the stuffing out of lesser teams.

In good spirits: Pietersen was criticised for his display in the opening Test

In good spirits: Pietersen was criticised for his display in the opening Test

Instead, England earned thrilling wins that clinched the urn on both occasions. The shock of their 10-wicket loss in Dubai leaves England still having everything to prove if they are to convince they can compete in subcontinental conditions.

If they fail here then they cannot win this three-match series and a year that will also include visits to Sri Lanka and India will seem that much more daunting.

Probable teams

Andrew Strauss is always phlegmatic and talked sensibly yesterday about the task ahead, but he must know deep down that this is one of the biggest challenges of the highly successful alliance between him and Andy Flower.

The Sheik Zayed Stadium is an unlikely stage for such a showdown, not least because it is another inaccessible venue in the middle of the desert. So desperate are the authorities here to attract a crowd – any sort of crowd – that the doors will be flung open and spectators invited in for free. That will never happen at Lord's.

Strauss knows that taking 20 wickets here will test the skill and ingenuity of his four-man attack like never before but hewas keen yesterday not to pre-judge the wicket on the back of history.

'It might be hard to get a victory here but there are a lot of things that can happen over five days,' said Strauss.

'The wicket looks flat but it's
important we don't go in with any preconceptions. We learned a lesson on
that in Dubai. /01/24/article-0-116F301A000005DC-862_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”In training: England are put through their paces at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium” class=”blkBorder” />

In training: England are put through their paces at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium

England may never have played here before but they remember Abu Dhabi well as the venue for their holding camp before they returned to India in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008.

England trained at this spaceship-like venue and stayed at the same central hotel they are using now with their families.

'Things were a bit up in the air over whether we would return to India and we got bounced mercilessly by Freddie Flintoff in the nets,' said Strauss.

'So they aren't brilliant memories, but we went back to Chennai and I scored two centuries in the Test, so personally that was fantastic.'

England were already considering leaving Chris Tremlett out of this Test after his rusty performance in Dubai but the decision was made for them yesterday when the Surrey giant spent all of training sitting on a cool-box rather than bowling because of a sore back.

Game over: Tremlett faces another spell on the sidelines

Game over: Tremlett faces another spell on the sidelines

It was a back injury that kept Tremlett out for the second half of last summer and this latest setback is a worrying one for a bowler who looked to have put his many injury problems behind him when he starred in last winter's Ashes.

Tremlett has all the physical attributes to be a monster of a fast bowler but his body still looks fragile and he cut a forlorn figure yesterday as he contemplated another spell out of the side.

England were set to choose in his place between the next man in line for a fast bowling spot, Steven Finn, or the wicket-to-wicket qualities of Graham Onions, who would be making his international comeback after a career-threatening back injury of his own.

Onions looked the more likely to get the nod last night, and the wait for a Test return for spinner Monty Panesar, whose last appearance was in 2009, seemed set to continue.

Only if England need to gamble everything on winning the final Test will Panesar seemingly come into the equation.

Steve Lomas says Francisco Sandaza won"t sign Rangers deal

Livid Lomas says Sandaza won't sell himself short by signing Rangers deal

Francisco Sandaza is poised to reject the offer of a 5,000-a-week pre-contract agreement with Rangers.

In a fresh twist ahead of Saturday's
lunchtime clash between St Johnstone and the SPL champions at McDiarmid
Park, Perth boss Steve Lomas accused the Ibrox side of trying to take
the Spanish striker on the cheap.

And, he claims, 13-goal Sandaza shares that view.

Offer: St Johnstone's Francisco Sandaza pondering next move

Offer: St Johnstone's Francisco Sandaza pondering next move

Sportsmail understands Rangers are willing to offer Saints fringe players in order to facilitate a deal.

As Ally McCoist's men travel to Perth without injured keeper Allan McGregor, however, Lomas warned them to pay the 300,000 his club are demanding or risk losing the player to one of a posse of English sides travelling north.

An irate Lomas told Sportsmail: 'Fran has told me he won't be signing a pre-contract agreement with Rangers and I believe the lad. He isn't stupid.

'Fran is of the opinion that, if Rangers really wanted it, they would do it now. It's not as if we are looking for fortunes, and he is of the opinion that Rangers are trying to get him on the cheap. That's the mark of the man; he has that little bit of arrogance.

'He knows he will score for Rangers. And he's thinking to himself: “Well, hold on a minute, if they really want me, come and pay the money.”

'Why would he go on a pre-contract If he scores another 10 goals, that's 23 for the season. He'd be on a free transfer and he would go somewhere else and get a lot more than Rangers have offered him.

'I have been fielding a few calls from other clubs about Fran – Rangers are not the only ones interested in him. Offering us some players is not going to work. We have to replace Fran and Ally knows that. The longer it gets into the window, the harder that will be. We are in a good position at the minute, so that's where we're at.'

Pre-contract: McCoist

Pre-contract: McCoist

Lomas spoke out after Rangers manager McCoist confirmed a pre-contract offer had been made and that Lomas had been informed of the situation.

'I spoke to Steve this morning,' said McCoist. 'We have offered the player a pre-contract from May. His agent is back in Spain after a transatlantic flight, so I've not had a chance to catch up with him.

'But I've told Steve we intended to offer Fran a pre-contract, which we have now done.

'Indeed, the agent said he'll be talking to the player after the game on Saturday, which probably myself and Steve would agree would be a good idea.

'Could we try to get him now I don't know because I don't know how much St Johnstone would be looking for.'

Angry that McCoist had risked unsettling his player ahead of Saturday's game by speaking out, however, Lomas added: 'What I didn't understand today was Ally coming out and saying: “We don't want to talk about it,” and then talking about it for five minutes.

'I don't want to fall out with anyone over this and I genuinely like Ally, but I bet if the boot was on the other foot he wouldn't be happy.

'If Rangers really want Fran, why don't they make us an offer and get him in January I'm not sure what their agenda is.'

Sources close to Sandaza insisted the player has ruled nothing out and may yet sign for Rangers.

The striker will meet agent Clive Jagger in Spain in the coming days to thrash out his future.

Denying that the speculation and uncertainty will alter the forward's state of mind ahead of a game with the team who want to sign him, Lomas added: 'I watched Fran in training and his head is fine. He will play against Rangers, no question.

'It's a great stage for him. If anything, the Rangers talk may give his game even more of an edge and spur him on to show what he is all about.'

Sandaza's hopes of adding to his goals tally have been boosted by a fresh injury blow for Rangers.

Scotland keeper McGregor injured his thigh in training on Tuesday and has lost his battle to recover in time for Saturday, with stand-in Neil Alexander to deputise.

Ben Ainslie to launch America"s Cup team after London 2012

Three-time Olympic champion Ainslie to launch America's Cup team after London 2012

Ben Ainslie aims to lead Britain to a victory that has eluded the country since the oldest international sports event in the world began with defeat in front of a slim Queen Victoria in 1851.

The greatest Olympic sailor of his generation – and if he wins a fourth gold medal in London this summer, the most decorated in history – announced that he is setting up his own team to challenge for the 35th America’ s Cup.

He has formed Ben Ainslie Racing to take part, first, in the America’s Cup World Series, starting in August 2012. He will then team up with Oracle to defend the America’s Cup itself in San Francisco next year, with the intention of leading his own British boat next time round, probably in 2015 or 2017.

Ben Ainslie

Fresh challenge: Ben Ainslie

However, Ainslie, 34, is not yet ready to call time on his Olympic career post-2012, instead delaying a decision on whether to compete at Rio in 2016 until nearer the time. ‘It’s hard to know about that,’ he said.

‘It depends on how it goes this summer, what happens with the boat classes and how the BAR project develops.

‘The biggest issue is, commercially, bringing those partners in that can grow with the team and help us become a challenger for the 35th America's Cup. I don’ t see it as a distraction ahead of London.’

What is an unwelcome distraction is the Royal Yacht Association’s decision, expected in the next few weeks, on whether to take further action after his confrontation with the crew of a media boat that got too close to him as he raced in the World Championships in Perth in December.

Ben Ainslie, right, and New Zealand's Russell Coutts

Ben Ainslie, right, and New Zealand's Russell Coutts

He was disqualified, despite the provocation. It is unlikely in the extreme that his participation at London will be imperilled by the RYA.

‘It would be huge if they decided to ban me from the Olympics,’ he said. ‘I don't think anyone really needs that.

‘I have to abide by that decision. Everything that happened was very disappointing. I just hope it gets cleared up and we can all move on, from my side and the sport's side.’

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