NOTTINGHAM (AFP) - England selector Mick Newell has defended the ongoing inclusion of struggling opener Adam Lyth in the Test side facing Australia in the Ashes series.
Yorkshire batsman Lyth has failed to make a major impression on the series so far with 72 runs in six innings at an average of 12 and a best of 37, although he did score a Test century against New Zealand earlier this season.
England head to Nottingham's Trent Bridge, where the fourth Test starts on Thursday, with a 2-1 lead in the five-match series after an eight-wicket win completed inside three days across the Midlands at Birmingham's Edgbaston ground.
England have already altered their batting line-up once this series, bringing in Jonny Bairstow and promoting Ian Bell and Joe Root up a place after dropping number three Gary Ballance - a Yorkshire colleague of Lyth, Root and Bairstow.
Lyth's form prompted speculation that England might give a Test debut to limited overs international opener Alex Hales on his Nottinghamshire home ground.
But Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, said Hales had still to "push his case".
"Adam Lyth has everyone's confidence to come out here on Thursday and score runs for England," said Newell. "He has justified his place in the team and scored an awful lot of runs for Yorkshire to get into this team and he has a Test match century under his belt, so he has everyone's confidence.
"It's up to players like Alex Hales and others to push their cases in the county games."
Victory in Nottingham will see England regain the Ashes and Newell is hoping for a lively pitch similar to the one the teams encountered at Edgbaston.
Pitch preparation has been a hot topic this Ashes, amid claims England chiefs deliberately instructed groundsmen to prepare slow surfaces for the first two Tests in a bid to negate the impact of Australia's fast bowlers.
But if this was indeed a tactic, it backfired spectacularly in the second Test at Lord's where the combination of a slow pitch and a lack of sideways movement favoured Australia, who won the match by 405 runs, as their pacemen are generally quicker through the air than England's fast bowlers.
Nottinghamshire head groundsman Steve Birks is under particular pressure after last year's Test pitch at Trent Bridge was officially classed as "poor" by International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee David Boon.
Former Australia batsman Boon's assessment followed a run-glut draw between England and India played out on a slow surface that was heartbreaking for any bowler above medium pace.
The Test ran to five days, during which time India scored 457 and 391 for nine declared while England amassed 496 in their only innings - a total of 1,344 runs.
The match also witnessed two 10th-wicket century stands - including Root and James Anderson's Test-record 198 for England.
Newell, however, was optimistic this season's Test pitch would play very differently indeed. He said: "It's looking good. The groundsman is preparing the pitch as he always does.
"I think the main issues are that we want to make sure it has pace, carry and bounce through to the wicket-keeper and the slip fielders are there to take the catches as they come."