Australia-England Fourth Ashes Test Preview
Australia v England - fourth Ashes Test, Melbourne Cricket Ground - 26th-30th December - five-match series level at 1-1
Australia restored the balance in the Ashes series with the Perth victory and Ricky Ponting will play at Melbourne with some relief and confidence.
After a one-dimensional show down in the first two Tests, the Perth victory has got the series squared at 1-1.
Venue: Home ground to Victoria, the stadium has an estimated capacity of 100,000 spectators. Australia enjoy a great run here winning the last four out of five matches played.
Last time, Nathan Hauritz picked a five-fer to script an easy victory for the Australians against Pakistan, a year ago.
The MCG will be unlike the fast and bouncy Perth and in all probability, a slow surface will be on offer. The curator Cameron Hodgkin has already allayed fears that a green top would be in store .Traditionally, the strip gives help to slow bowlers and Graeme Swann’s role will be huge if pitch doesn’t deviate from its historical nature.
The last time England retained the Ashes Down Under was in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne in 1986 when they packed down Australia by an innings and 14 runs to take an irrefutable 2-0 lead in the series.
Andrew Strauss's side has a second opportunity to retain the urn at the same Melbourne Cricket Ground over the coming days. Steven Finn is likely to give way to Tim Bresnan, while Paul Collingwood is unlikely to get an axe for the crucial game.
- England batting has been consummate throughout the series with an exception at WACA.
- The top order has consistently applied themselves and posted totals in excess of 400 runs. The middle order comprising Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have batted beautifully to raise the hopes of England spectators.
- England batsman will have to notch totals sufficient for their bowling outfit to do the job of picking 20 wickets. The batsmen will look to build partnerships and convert the starts into big scores and will not want to repeat the Perth fiasco.
- Paul Collingwood has failed to deliver the goods in the series so far, and is under pressure coming into this game .He may get a demotion and bat lower down the order.
- The form of Graeme Swann holds great significance in this match as the pitch is likely to aid slow bowlers. The strike weapon bowled just 25 overs, taking 2-103 as Australian batsman attacked him consistently in Perth.
Watch out for:
- Kevin Pietersen: The talented and destructive right-hander may step up his game for an all important match. After scoring a career-best 227 in Adelaide Oval, he would like to put the low scores registered in Perth behind him. Australia must snare him early.
- Paul Collingwood: Under huge pressure to make a contribution, his role will be significant not only as a batsman but also as a bowler. The pitch, if it is slow, will be ideal for his cutters and his ability to target the stumps may prove to be more than useful. A brilliant fieldsman, with a rare ability to pluck difficult catches, he can change the complexion of the match.
- Ricky Ponting is almost certain to lead the side in the Boxing Day Test after batting without any obvious discomfort in the nets at the MCG.
- Australia will feel the momentum is with them after the glory in Perth. Phil Hughes is likely to get one more chance alongside Shane Watson to open the innings and their left and right combination should hope to unsettle the England bowlers.
- With spin in the offing at MCG, Australia will be tempted to play either Michael Beer or Steven Smith.
- Shane Watson, Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin are in wonderful batting form with Hussey leading the run charts with 517 runs. Shane Watson will look for the elusive Ashes hundred.
- Mitchell Johnson produced a man-of-the-match performance in Perth with 62 valuable runs and nine for 102 with the ball. His confidence will be sky high after the Perth show.
- Vice-captain Michael Clarke and skipper Ricky Ponting will need to lift their performance with the bat at MCG. While Clarke appeared to have found his batting form at Adelaide with 80, Ponting has discovered new ways to get dismissed.
- With the MCG likely to assist the slower men, the big question is whether Mitchell Johnson will be able to produce the swing he discovered at Perth. At times, the Australian bowling unit lacked penetration.
- The traditional reverse swing might be hard to discover as the rains have kept the surface fresh, devoid of any abrasions. That could make it difficult for either team to take 20 wickets, and Australia need to win either in Melbourne or Sydney to regain the urn. Australia will be two minds whether to continue with their four pronged pace attack or play a spinner.
Watch out for:
- Michael Clarke: The Australian vice-captain has scores of nine, two, four and 20, though he notched 80 at the Adelaide Oval. He is one of the best players of spin bowling in the Australian batting line up with his twinkling footwork.
- Shane Watson: The most improved batsman since his promotion to open the innings in the last Ashes. He will be keen to make a big contribution, with two fifties to show already in this series.