The Ashes: Australia vs England – 4th Test preview

24 December 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Australia v England: 4th Ashes Test, begins Sunday 26/12 –10.30am (Local Time) at the MCG, Melbourne

TEN THINGS WE LEARNT FROM THE THIRD TEST:

  1. A confident and self-assured Mitchell Johnson is impossible to play.
  2. In fact Johnson should always be the first player picked in the Australian team because when he is firing, the whole team seems to lift with him.
  3. Michael Hussey is back in the career-best form which at the start of the year saw him reach statistical feats similar to the great Sir Donald Bradman.
  4. Paul Collingwood’s continual run of poor form is exposing his unthreatening approach to batting and his spot in the team no longer seems secure.
  5. Shane Watson is turning into Michael Slater’s twin – they are both eccentric opening batsmen who always struggle to convert scores of 90 into 100.
  6. After a few years in the wilderness, the WACA pitch is back to its fast lively self and the Australian players couldn’t have be happier.
  7. Ricky Ponting needs to start scoring runs soon otherwise the media will call for his execution – a situation eerily similar to Steve Waugh’s predicament back in the 2002/03 Ashes series.
  8. Ashes banter returned to the field in Perth and it clearly favours the Australians.
  9. The series is back on level terms, both on the scoreboard (1-1) and in terms of momentum.
  10. Test cricket is alive once again!

 

KEY PLAYERS:

If you took one look at Phillip Hughes’ short career, you would swear he’s the next big thing in Australian cricket. The 22-year-old burst onto the test scene with a hundred in each innings against South Africa in 2009. In fact Hughes was being touted as the next Matthew Hayden, but a run of low scores during the 2009 Ashes series saw him dropped in favour of the now highly successful Shane Watson. The New South Welshman averages 45 from eight tests, but is now seen as the ‘fill in’ opening batsman when either Watson or Simon Katich is injured. Hughes has been given another chance at the top level but needs to justify his selection with a big score this test because Katich recently declared he is a chance to play in the fifth test. A big score this test would not only benefit Hughes’ future aspirations at the top of the order, but also Australia’s Ashes chances.

No one loves the big stage more than Kevin Pietersen and there’s no better opportunity for the big man to stamp his authority on the Ashes than in front of a packed MCG. It’s as if the 30-year-old was born for the spotlight. Who could forget that magical 158 against Australia at The Oval that secured England’s first Ashes win for 18 years or that commanding 227 two tests ago in Adelaide? Pietersen averages 53 runs per innings from 15 tests against the Australians, making them his third favourite team to play against. He’s tall, powerful, unconventional and maybe even a little arrogant, but a big innings from Pietersen in front of 90,000 fans is a recipe for disaster for Australia.  

PITCH AND CONDITIONS:

Never has a pitch been so heavily scrutinised and critiqued as much as the one being prepared for the upcoming Boxing Day encounter. According to the plethora of English press who’ve descended on Australian soil, chief MCG curator Cameron Hodgkins has allegedly decided to prepare a livelier strip with a little extra grass than usual in a deliberate attempt to favour the Australian bowling attack after their performance in Perth. While Hodgkins has every right to prepare whatever pitch he wants, a specialist spin bowler is still a necessity when playing in Melbourne because the wicket tends to break up significantly on the fourth and fifth days. Also the weather forecast for the first couple of days is predicting cool temperatures and rain, meaning there is a strong chance of frustrating delays. 

LIKELY TEAMS:

The Aussies are confident and energetic once again, yet they are likely to make one change to their successful side. Due to the nature of the MCG pitch, there is a strong chance Michael Beer will be included in the starting 11, therefore one of the four quick bowlers will have to make way for him. Despite a ferocious six-wicket haul – which included a hat-rick – in the first test in Brisbane and the possibility of playing in front of his home crowd at the MCG, Peter Siddle seems the logical yet unlucky player to be dropped after below par performances over the past two weeks. In other team news, Ricky Ponting severely hurt his pinkie finger while attempting to grasp a sharp chance at second slip during the third test, so up-and-coming batsman Usman Khawaja has been placed on standby. However the Australian captain will have pain killing injections and risk missing the final test in Sydney in order to lead his side onto the MCG turf. Here is how the Australians will likely line-up:

  1. Shane Watson
  2. Phillip Hughes
  3. Ricky Ponting (C)/Usman Khawaja
  4. Michael Clarke
  5. Michael Hussey
  6. Steve Smith
  7. Brad Haddin (WK)
  8. Mitchell Johnson
  9. Michael Beer/Peter Siddle
  10. Ryan Harris
  11. Ben Hilfenhaus

 

Despite a disappointing performance in Perth, England should go into the test unchanged, however Collingwood is one only player who the selectors will watch very closely. He is severely out of form and has failed to have an impact on the series with either bat or ball so far. But his fielding has been invaluable, highlighted by a couple of stunning catches over the first three games. There have been a few question marks over the fitness of Jimmy Anderson after he pulled up with a side strain in Perth. Tim Bresnan will be placed on standby in case Anderson isn’t fit, but he is their most important bowler and will be desperate to play. Here is how the English will likely line-up:

  1. Andrew Strauss (C)
  2. Alastair Cook
  3. Jonathon Trott
  4. Kevin Pietersen
  5. Paul Collingwood
  6. Ian Bell
  7. Matthew Prior (WK)
  8. Graeme Swann
  9. Jimmy Anderson
  10. Steve Finn
  11. Chris Tremlett

 

WHO WINS THE BOXING DAY TEST?

Just over a week ago, Australia’s Ashes hopes were in tatters. Fans had turned their backs on the team and media from all over the world were loading their gun barrels, ready to fire shots at players, coaches and selectors. Suddenly test cricket and this series is alive again and one of the most eagerly anticipated cricket games for many years awaits us. In fact Cricket Australia spokesman Peter Young said the Boxing Day match is ‘a pivotal moment in terms of test cricket’s health’.

The MCG is the perfect venue to host a game of such magnitude. A win for England means they retain the Ashes, but a draw or a win to Australia means the series will be decided at the SCG in the new year.

The Aussies need to make the most of their confidence and continue that momentum they developed in Perth. Their bowling attack, led by Johnson and Ryan Harris will need to find the right line and length with the new ball to put the England top order under the maximum amount of pressure. And if Hughes and the Australian top order can support Hussey through some big scores, the Poms will be in strife.

But after such a tactically aggressive match in Perth and with the series still any team’s for the taking, it’s hard to predict a definitive winner. And with showers forecast over the first few days and a high likelihood of defensive tactics, a draw seems the most likely outcome, meaning the final test will decide the Ashes victor.

PREDICTION:

Draw

Ben Waterworth is a  Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.  You can read even more of his work at his blog, A Short Sport Thought.