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Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne

The biggest stage set to sizzle

The Preview by Brydon Coverdale

December 25, 2010

Comments: 56 | Text size: A | A

Match Facts


Michael Beer bowls at Australia's net session, December 23, 2010
Michael Beer is still waiting to find out if he will debut on Boxing Day © Getty Images
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December 26-30, Melbourne
Start time 10:30 (23:30 GMT)

The Big Picture

It doesn't get much bigger than this: Boxing Day at the MCG in front of a potential crowd of 90,000, the Ashes up for grabs, the series level at 1-1 with two Tests to play, England sweating on the fitness of their best bowler and Australia hoping their captain can play with a broken finger. This is Test cricket at its most intoxicating. Can the match live up to the hype?

Australia's victory at the WACA might have disappointed England fans keen to see the urn safely in the visitors' hands as soon as possible. But for the series, and for the spectacle of Boxing Day in Melbourne, a level series leading in to the match is a tantalising prospect. Should Australia win, or secure a draw, either team will still be able to take home the Ashes with one Test to play.

And things aren't as straightforward as they seemed a fortnight ago. England's strike bowler James Anderson is under an injury cloud with a side problem, and their No. 5 Paul Collingwood is in poor form. Australia haven't solved their spin conundrum, having escaped from the WACA without needing one, and they could give a debut to a man with the grand tally of seven first-class matches under his belt.

It all combines to set the scene for one of the most fascinating contests seen in Australia in recent years. And if the home team prevails, the New Year Test in Sydney will be even bigger.

Form guide

(most recent first)

Australia WLDLL
England LWDWL

Watch out for...

He began the series as Australia's most under-pressure batsman, but now Michael Hussey is the one banker in a line-up that has struggled to post big totals. By freeing his thinking and playing his natural game, Hussey has sparked a career renaissance that has brought his highest Test score and six consecutive 50-plus Ashes scores, which is a record. On the slowish Melbourne surface, he will have plenty of time to pull.

Ian Bell is in form, but hasn't had much opportunity yet to post a big Ashes hundred, given how solid the rest of the top order has been. He is still desperately searching for that first Test century against Australia, after 16 Ashes Tests. If Australia hand the spinner Michael Beer a debut, Bell will certainly attack him hard, and it could be an important passage in the Test.

Team news

Ricky Ponting appears certain to play despite having a broken finger, so the only question for Australia surrounds the make-up of their attack. The slow MCG drop-in pitches usually mean a spinner is required, so Beer could come in for his debut. If that is the case, Peter Siddle is likely to be the unlucky fast man who would be left out.

Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Steven Smith, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Ryan Harris, 10 Michael Beer, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.

England's batting group is settled, despite Collingwood's slump, and their decisions are also bowling related. Anderson's side problem has placed him in doubt, while Steven Finn might be rested if Anderson plays. Either way, Tim Bresnan is likely to come in alongside Chris Tremlett and either Finn or Anderson.

England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 James Anderson

Pitch and conditions

Melbourne's drop-in pitches are usually slow and low, which will be a change after the lively surface in Perth. "I would think on the WACA's worst day they would still be faster and bouncier than anything we normally turn out," the MCG curator Cameron Hodgkins said. Batting often becomes easier as the match progresses. The forecast for the first day is for a shower or two and 21C.

Stats and trivia

  • Ricky Ponting enters this match having played in 99 Test victories, and should Australia prevail, he will be the first player in history to take part in 100 Test wins

  • Australia have won 10 of the past 11 Tests at the MCG, the only loss in that time coming against South Africa two years ago

  • Mike Hussey has scored 517 runs and Alastair Cook has 495 for the series. With two Tests remaining, both men have made more than any player did during the entire 2009 Ashes series

  • The record crowd for cricket at the MCG was 90,800, set on day two of the Australia-West Indies Test in 1960-61

Quotes

"The Boxing Day Test is always very special because the guys have their families, it's a great time of the year. Everyone is pretty excited and probably a bit more excited after winning in Perth as well."
Michael Clarke

"Huge support for Australia, Ashes on the line, there's going to be a lot of pressure around and personally that excites me. It's a great test for us as a side."
Andrew Strauss

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

RSS Feeds: Brydon Coverdale

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by 5wombats on (December 26, 2010, 2:07 GMT)

This is Ponting's favourite ground! I predict he will score 10, and so witll Michael Clarke to silence all critics. England will win. Thanks @popcorn - as ever you are an inspiration to us all.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 23:15 GMT)

England has to draw it if they do not win. SCG will be decider i reckon. Swan will surprise every one especially hussey. He has already gave hussy a hard time in previous innings. It would be a great game i can not wait to see this match. MCG is a batting paradise. West indiies had surprised OZIES at MCG. Ausies will be in great confidence after winning that game. England has to make 500 + runs to put Ozies under pressure. Which i wish England does today by winning the toss and electing to bat 1st :). I am pakistani but love ASHES and has been regularly following Ashes Cricket since 2005 when England started winning. Miceal vaughan was my fav test batsman and also pieterson. Now so good to see Cook getting back in his form and specially improving his front foot. I want cook to become and remain highest run scorer in this series ahead of HUSSEY and win man of the series award along with TROPHY.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 22:59 GMT)

Cricinfo is wrong calling it the "Biggest Stage". These world #4 and 5 competing. Biggest stage is in Durban where #1 and #2 are playing. Let us bring some fairness into the thinking of CricInfo staff. Let us not have pre-conceived ideas that Ashes is always the biggest stage.

Posted by chiefy14 on (December 25, 2010, 22:47 GMT)

@Ashes NotBiggestSeries - maybe India v.s. South Africa could be a bigger series if India were playing even the smallest amount of decent cricket..

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 22:40 GMT)

this is pointings stage the G com on the aussies show the poms dn bring in beer smith can spin the ball cant wait going to be a craker instead of negavtive comments remember itz test cricket anything can happen

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 22:38 GMT)

England will need tp pressurize the Aussies to make any headway in this test.I wish that the Poms beat the Aussies and win the Ashes.

Posted by Iceborn999 on (December 25, 2010, 22:36 GMT)

Australia must go with variety and play beer. 4 Seamers will take Australia to their doom. Siddle is a passenger.

Posted by dinosaurus on (December 25, 2010, 22:28 GMT)

@AshesNotBiggestSeries,

My prediction: a century after Test cricket involving 8-10 nations has ceased Aus and Eng will still be playing the Ashes in front of large corwds both in Eng and Aus!!

Posted by sgbhatcar on (December 25, 2010, 22:26 GMT)

I have been reading about record breaking crowds at the MCG for this Ashes Test. Haven't there been crowds larger than 90,000 at the MCG and at the Eden Gardens in India, before?

Posted by Gary_111 on (December 25, 2010, 22:05 GMT)

@ AshesNotBiggestSeries

Read the article - the game could possibly break the 50 year record for a Test attendance. 90,000+ people in the ground is not the biggest stage? What is then?

Suggest you remove the chip from your shoulder and stop trolling.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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