The best chance for Australia and Hayden
Already 1-0 down in the series, and with their No. 1 ranking under severe threat, Australia couldn't have asked for a better venue to mount a fightback. A Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Cricket has been synonymous with absolute Australian dominance in recent times: since the 1999-2000 season, they have a perfect 9-0 win-loss record here. Not only have they won each time, they have also done so with plenty to spare - out of those nine wins, one was by an innings, four by a margin of more than 175 runs, and three by nine wickets. South Africa were at the receiving end on two of those occasions, losing by nine wickets in 2001, and by 184 runs in 2005.
|Australia - overall||100||57||28||15|
|South Africa - overall||11||2||7||2|
|Autralia - since 1990||19||15||2||2|
|South Africa - since readmission||4||0||2||2|
For a beleaguered and harried team, the numbers at this ground will please Ricky Ponting, the under-pressure captain . In the last nine Tests at the MCG, Australia average almost twice as many runs per wicket as the opposition, and score at a much faster rate too. They also tend to take the early initiative with both bat and ball - their average partnerships for the first two wickets here are 50 and 66.21, while the opposition's is 30.55 and 29.27. Once they've take the early initiative, they've refused to let go. (Click here for Australia's average runs per partnership, and here for the opposition's.)
|Runs per wicket||Runs per over|
Australia come into this match, though, with plenty of problems. Their biggest worries have revolved around the form of their most experienced players, and there again, Melbourne has been kind to most of them in the past. Matthew Hayden has had a horror run in the last couple of months, scoring 282 runs in his last 13 innings, but the MCG has been his most prolific venue: in nine Tests he has scored 1072 runs at an outstanding average of 76.57. In his five most recent Tests here, his record is even more scary - his scores read 136, 53*, 9, 56*, 65, 137, 153, 124, and 47, giving him an aggregate of 780 and an average of 111.42. Ricky Ponting, another batsman who has had a patchy year so far, averages more than 61 here, though his last three innings have only fetched him 14 runs.
|Matthew Hayden||9||1072||76.57||6/ 3|
|Andrew Symonds||3||307||61.40||1/ 1|
|Ricky Ponting||11||917||61.13||3/ 3|
|Michael Hussey||3||197||39.40||1/ 0|
|Michael Clarke||3||118||29.50||0/ 1|
|Simon Katich||1||29||29.00||0/ 0|
Among the bowlers, Brett Lee has been the biggest concern - he has taken 21 wickets at 42.23 in his last seven Tests, including returns of 1 for 132 in Perth - but at the MCG he has racked up 34 wickets in just seven Tests at an average of 25. The accuracy of Stuart Clark will be missed again: in two Tests here, Clark averages 10.50, at an economy rate of 1.66; in four innings, he has never conceded more than 1.87 runs per over.
South Africa have far fewer worries going into the match, and Jacques Kallis' two half-centuries in Perth means the one batsman who has struggled for runs this year has found some as well. Kallis needs just 79 more to become the first South African to score 10,000 Test runs, and if his past record at this ground is any indication, he should get it over the next five days: Kallis averages averages 47.50 at the MCG, which is where he scored a century in his first Test in Australia. The next time he played here, he almost got another century, being run-out for 99. He didn't get many in 2005, but now would be a perfect time to make amends for that.
Australia's selection quandary includes the question-mark over their spinner, and while Nathan Hauritz has come in for the profligate Jason Krejza, recent record here suggests Hauritz won't have much success. In the last nine Tests, fast bowlers have taken 196 wickets at an average of just over 30, nine runs fewer than the spinners' average. Surprisingly, spinners have taken more five-fors, with fast bowlers sharing the wickets around most of the time. All the five-wicket hauls by spin bowlers have been by wristspinners - two by Anil Kumble, and one each by Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill and Danish Kaneria.
|Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo