England bid for early Christmas present
December 16-20, Perth
Start time 10:30 (02:30 GMT)
The Big PictureAll both teams want for Christmas is a win, but Australia would settle for a draw as a way of stopping the damage from an opponent showing few weaknesses. England lead the five-match contest 1-0 and will retain the Ashes with a victory, which is the most likely result on the form of the opening two encounters. England have never secured the urn before Christmas in their 133-year history of visits Down Under, and they may never have a better chance.
The series is only 10 days old but already it has taken a toll on both sides. Stuart Broad has been ruled out with a stomach tear and will spend his week in the Test Match Special commentary box instead of the dressing room. Simon Katich's heel problem has forced him out of the side and Australia have called for the type of wholesale changes England teams were mocked for making between 1989 and 2002-03. It's young talent time for the hosts, with Steven Smith (21), Phillip Hughes (22) and Michael Beer (26) coming in, and Mitchell Johnson in favour again after a week spent in the WACA nets.
Apart from which fast bowler to pick to replace Broad, England's main worry is their recent history of giving away hard-won series leads. They allowed Australia to level the 2009 Ashes after four games - but recovered to take the trophy - and also drew in South Africa after earning an early advantage. Australia are praying for more generosity this time.
Form guide(most recent first)
Watch out for...
Mitchell Johnson is back. That would have been a scary line once, but over the past two years he has become a man of mystery. Dropped for the first time in his Test career after going wicket-less in Brisbane, Johnson has trained his way back after an intense week working with Troy Cooley, the bowling coach. The WACA is a great venue for Johnson, who has 21 wickets in three Tests, including a career-best match haul of 11 for 159. Australia need that version of Johnson in this fixture, not the ineffective model that appeared at the Gabba.
The new dad James Anderson has been to Lancashire and back over the past week to be at the birth of his second child. Over the next five days he will have to battle jet-lag and an Australia batting line-up that is determined not to be overwhelmed by England's remodelled attack. Anderson's control and swing will be vital, especially when he's running into the breeze of the Fremantle Doctor. He was dropped for the Perth Test on the previous tour, but is such a better bowler than he was four years ago..
Team newsAustralia's big question surrounds whether to play Peter Siddle, the bowler who started the series with six wickets on the opening day in Brisbane. Siddle hasn't claimed a victim in Australia's past two innings and Ryan Harris jumped ahead of him in Adelaide. If both Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus, the in-to-the-wind man, come back in, then Siddle will probably miss out. He may get a reprieve if Beer is left out, but that will depend on the wicket on Thursday morning. Ponting is delaying naming the side until he takes one final look at the surface.
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 Michael Beer, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
It is now almost certain that Chris Tremlett will be Broad's replacement ahead of Tim Bresnan. Despite Bresnan's tactical nous on flat pitches, Tremlett offers extra bounce and menace with his height and will have a crucial role to play alongside Anderson, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann.
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 Graeme Swann, 9 James Anderson, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 Steven Finn.
Pitch and conditionsPerth is always talked up as a fast man's favourite but over the past decade it has disappointed. Every year there is excited chatter from the locals that this time it will recapture its past glories. Maybe it will really happen this time. The pitch is expected to start with a tinge of green, but the cracking late in the match is expected to be a far greater concern to the batsmen than early seam movement. Sunny conditions are forecast throughout the game, with maximum temperatures above 30C.
Stats and trivia
- England have won only one of 11 Tests at the WACA, with that victory coming in the Packer-depleted era of 1978-79
- Australia have succeeded in 21 of 39 games here, with only nine losses. Five of those were against West Indies.
- Ricky Ponting is the leading the run-scorer in Tests at the WACA with 933, two more than Allan Border. David Gower is the best of the overseas players with 471 in five matches
- If Alastair Cook is wanting to add the highest score at the WACA to his Brisbane ground record, he must beat Matthew Hayden's 380 against Zimbabwe in 2003-04
Quotes"We are priming ourselves to play our best game so far in the series and we know we have to do it by a long way if we want to win the game."
"I feel like it's part of my job as a bowler and I see myself as the leader of the attack here, so it's important I think about what went right for us in the last two games and what we can improve on for this game."
James Anderson had plenty time to ponder his game during 48 hours of flying in the past week
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo