Edgbaston 'aura' can lift England
Birmingham was a miserable, desolate place on Wednesday.
The most violent rain struck as soon as I turned left onto the M6 from the M1 in mid-morning, but several hours later the two super-soppers making diligent passes around the Edgbaston outfield were still fighting an unwinnable battle.
Much of the moisture that could be removed was ejected by the super-soppers' water cannons onto the stands, at one point comically drenching some of the stewards and groundstaff dotted around the place. But however hard everyone worked, the puddles and small lakes just stayed there.
Years ago, they used to have a thing called the Brumbrella which completely covered the playing area. Perhaps they should have kept it, even if it didn't always work very well all the time, because of all the English Test grounds Edgbaston is one of the poorest when it comes to drainage.
Incidentally, Warwickshire County Cricket Club have chosen to delay claiming their £600,000 grant from the England and Wales Cricket Board to relay the outfield and upgrade the drainage, and will instead do so as part of their major upcoming refurbishment plans.
Walking back from the banqueting suite where the captains had had their say on Thursday's big match, I saw a man sitting in a puddle several inches deep as he furiously tried to hammer some decking up in front of a stand selling a brand of popular West Indian rum.
If this weather keeps up, they may want to think about ditching the rum and selling cagoules and soup instead.
But what really caught the eye was a little sign that might touch a raw nerve or two among thirsty Australian supporters queuing up for refreshments. Based on an outdated stereotype that all barstaff come from down under, it read: "We're English, we brew beer. You're Australian, you serve it."
Its tone chimed with a chain of remarks made by Andrew Strauss moments earlier.
Invited by the BBC's Joe Wilson to elaborate on whether the "Australian aura we're used to has disappeared", he gave an answer that left his listeners in no doubt.
The England captain responded: "I don't think this Australian side has got an aura about it, to be honest with you. You've got players at the start of their Test careers and by very definition they don't have an aura about them. That's encouraging."
He was even happy to provide his own definition of this word "aura", reckoning it was "when opposition teams are not confident of beating you."
Ricky Ponting was not keen to get too involved in the debate over who did or did not have this intangible quality. He had more pressing matters to address, such as the weather.
When you are 1-0 down in a series, the last thing you want to see on the eve of a match is an outfield so drenched that the scheduled start is threatened by a considerable delay. More encouraging for everyone is that the forecast is pretty good for the first two days of the Test, though it gets a bit murky from Saturday onwards.
Ponting seems certain to stick with Mitchell Johnson, even though the paceman's confidence seems shots to pieces. While revealing very little, he sounded bullish about Stuart Clark's prospects of playing for the first time in the series (if he did so he would presumably unseat Peter Siddle).
But the biggest dilemma will concern whether the fit-again all-rounder Shane Watson plays. If he does, he will have to usurp a specialist batsman - either Marcus North or Phillip Hughes - and Australia would have more tools in their bowling attack.
Given that this ground has provided five draws in six completed County Championship matches (two featuring scores in excess of 600), Ponting might think he can afford to lose a batsman.
Then again, two draws and a win for Australia, perhaps at Headingley, would be enough to see the urn remain in their hands - so it is not quite time to go for all-out attack with five bowlers.
One thing this wicket, so badly delayed in its preparation, will not provide is steepling bounce, so Steve Harmison will surely not come into the equation.
We already know for certain Monty Panesar will not be playing, but it was interesting to see him working in the indoor nets longer than any other member of the England squad, with Mushtaq Ahmed busily trying to work the oracle with the Northants slow left-armer.
There is another important factor that favours England: the Edgbaston crowd. Strauss said tellingly: "We very much hope that they will be raucous and partisan," aware as much as anyone how the national team have counted on the vocal Midlands support down the years, losing just eight times in 43 Tests here.
The Aussies have had their moments, winning here in 1975, 1993 and 2001. But their modern era defeats here have included the classics in 1981 and 2005, the innings drubbing of 1985 and the surprise defeat in 1997.
The famous "This is Anfield" sign that greets visiting teams to Liverpool's fortress is almost meant to be off-putting. Similarly this old ground has had an unsettling quality for England's opponents down the years. You might even call it the Edgbaston "aura".