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
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


"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

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© 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)


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.

Posted by dinosaurus on (December 25, 2010, 21:50 GMT)


Most days of the series have been played in front of sell-out crowds. Your complete lack of knowledge reveals you as merely indulging in anti-Aussie bile

Posted by landl47 on (December 25, 2010, 21:23 GMT)

If the weather forecast is right, then the five days will have temperatures between 63F and 78F (17C and 25C approx.). That's roughly a normal week in Summer in England. Good news for the England side.

Posted by 2009hughem on (December 25, 2010, 21:02 GMT)

@AshesNotBiggestSeries. Pretty certain the fact that 91,000 people are turning up to the MCG today, making it the largest recorded cricket crowd in Australian history, makes your point moot. The crowd at Durban would be lucky to be quarter of that. The Ashes is the biggest cricket stage.

Posted by swissjacko on (December 25, 2010, 19:12 GMT)

funny that when australia were on the back foot in the first 2 tests there was barely a local supporter in the house. now that they're back in the series 91,000 will be there today. aussie fans are only there for the good times. fickle.

Posted by AshesNotBiggestSeries on (December 25, 2010, 18:47 GMT)

"The biggest stage"? I believe the heading is above the wrong test series. The world No. 1 and No. 2 (that would be India and SA) are playing right now, with a following that dwarfs the Ashes, yet this match gets top billing in Cricinfo? Time to move on...

Posted by tanvir1974 on (December 25, 2010, 18:35 GMT)

Javed Miandad tips derailed pak batting i think. if they play their natural game then they can win.otherwise this team has no ability to win any match of any series.

Posted by santhoshwiz on (December 25, 2010, 18:26 GMT)

I would prefer Aussies going with Usman Khwaja ahead of Michael Beer with Steve Smith taking over the spinner's duties.. Siddle unfortunately has to sit out nevertheless..

Posted by At..... on (December 25, 2010, 18:01 GMT)

I'm not sure about who will win the game, but Ashes is at it's best. Hope crowd will be record breaking. Both the teams are at their best. Ponting should make this test memorable with his bat as well as with win. Hope he will do it in style. Aussie should play attacking from the beginning. Anything will happen but we want a real battle of Cricket.Good luck for both the teams.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 17:53 GMT)

most important thing is have a very good opening bat partnership instead of those like in adelaide & perth....that should do the trick

Posted by sajidimrankhan on (December 25, 2010, 16:04 GMT)

assusie need flying start either from bowling or batting, but most amazing will be strength of the teams. assusie should win this....whoop:))

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 15:38 GMT)

Why is Usman Khawaja not in the side, He should replace Steven Smith or Phillip Hughes

Posted by Tim40621 on (December 25, 2010, 15:28 GMT)

I have to say id be plesently suprised if we England win here. I feel our best chance will be at the SCG. I dont know what it is but Australias records at there bigger grounds are 2nd to none. The Gabba they always seem to win well at least not lose and the same at the MCG. But they dont have such good record at the Adelaide Oval and the SCG or at least dont play as well there i mean Pakistan should have won there earlier this year. I dont know weather its Australia lift themselves even more to a bigger atmosphere or the opersiton get intimidated? Pulling it of at the MCG will be extremly tough.

Posted by stormy16 on (December 25, 2010, 14:32 GMT)

Slow low wicket - you gotta be kidding me. This makes no sense after Eng struggled at the WACA and Swan was nullified, the G wants come up with a wicket whcih actually will help Eng. This is Aus and not the land of low slow wickets so what on earth is going on and Aus want to play a bloke who has 7 first class wickets!! I reckons its a set up - Eng will get a huge suprise with the wicket.

Posted by Something_Witty on (December 25, 2010, 14:31 GMT)

GlinnMgraw, neither can Beer. ;) Hauritz/O'keefe are the only sensible spin options, but the selectors are too daft to pick either of them.

Posted by tandelorama on (December 25, 2010, 14:31 GMT)

this series between Aussie and England is overhyped,its like this are the only 2 teams playing test cricket and series between SA and Ind doesn't mean anything,let us be real aussie is not the team they were in past.

Posted by elmo_leon on (December 25, 2010, 14:11 GMT)

can't wait! (oh dear, cricinfo wants 25 characters)

Posted by 5wombats on (December 25, 2010, 13:17 GMT)

surely things cant keep going well for Australia. i think and hope that normal order commences and Strauss and Cook and Trott and the bowlers put in an England dominant boxing day performance.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 12:59 GMT)

At the start of the ashes tour i thought england gonna target johnson.they done tat superbly and knocked out him.In 2005 ashes england targeted gillisipee and now i dont know where is he.But johnson is great bouncy WACA gave bounce to johnson.now task is really become tough.england wants to win the ashes2010. never want to level the series and retaining the urn..... come on england come on....Strauss stand and delivery the captains knock....

Posted by Okakaboka on (December 25, 2010, 12:39 GMT)

Well, a nation waits in anticipation...which Mitch Johnston will turn up. The one who swings the ball and lands it on the pitch at frightening speed or the other one.....who requires 3 longstops for Haddin and bowls as scary as a telli tubby. Oh, if some of you are wondering how long has my cynical nature regarding selection has been present. I remember when a certain spinner, John Watkins, was selected to represent Australia in the last test of a home series. He was unbelievable....Hopeless...a spinner who couldn't hit the pitch. Ian Chappel kept coming down from the slips to encourage him..."Come on Johnny, you can do it ....land one on the pitch!" He was also selected to tour the West Indies" Guess what State he was from??..MMmm...yep, NSW! This was back in the 70s. There are flaws in our current selected test team. Questions need to be asked....What the hell did Hauritz do to piss someone off...ask for Brad Hodge's autograph? But then we get three lame ducks from the same state?

Posted by Marcio on (December 25, 2010, 12:38 GMT)

Talk is cheap. All that matters is who shows nup on the day, and who performs. before the last game I sdaid the same thing. Pom supporters were quoting stats from the previouis two games saying Cook was averaging this, Strauss that, AUS couldn't take 20 wickets in the series, let alone one game. Eng got thrashed. So much for the talk. I'm prediciting a lot of runs in this game. If AUS bat first, they will rack up a score in the high 400s. Eng will then rack up an even bigger score on a flat track. After that... well if Australia is batting on day 4-5 with runs needed, Swann will win Eng. the game. AUS then to win in Sydney, and a 2-2 series result. So far all my predictions have been true. I'm psychic. Now that Paul the Octopus has gone, I'm here to scare the bookies. Ignore me at your own cost.

Posted by inefekt on (December 25, 2010, 12:14 GMT)

@nooby.......it's about saving face, the success of the side takes second place

Posted by popcorn on (December 25, 2010, 11:11 GMT)

This is Ponting's favourite ground! I predict he will score a century, and so witll Michael Clarke to silence all critics. Australia will win.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 11:02 GMT)

England will win because are just simply better then Australia ohh and I'm biased.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 10:28 GMT)

hope ponting and clarke play well and win the boxing day test.......................................

Posted by Nerk on (December 25, 2010, 9:50 GMT)

The fact is, the team that wins will be the team that works the hardest over five days. Who will it be? Who knows?

Posted by _nooby_ on (December 25, 2010, 9:44 GMT)

how could hauritz been left out of the side in the first place??? seriously...

Posted by Hooves on (December 25, 2010, 9:33 GMT)

I it doesn't always happen but i've witnessed it enough times that the debutant makes a real impact. I'm slightly nervous for Eng on this one. Not so sure Smith is the one to worry about, i think he'd get tonked all round the park but Beer? He might just be one of those wildcard winners that wips out a 6 or 7 wicket haul that changes things on the day. I would like to think that KP & Bell in particular would give him plenty of welly and pack him off back to the nets. Remember KP v Warne? 158 on the last day? Oh yeah! Dribbling with anticipation.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 8:53 GMT)

Man I can't wait! This is what sport is all about!

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 8:11 GMT)

More pressure on England in this match. They did not put up a fight at the WACA and hence I am not sure if they are as SETTLED as they say. Bell is being wasted playing at # 6. Collingwood is a matured player but has not contributed with the bat. As for Australia, Ponting is spoiling the career of Usman Khwaja by playing when he is not 100% fit. Surely it was the same way many good Australian players perished because of delay in retirement of the so called GR8 players. Beer should be a good bet at the MCG. Definitely England is the team under pressure. But I hope they win and go on to win the World Cup too. Keeping my fingers crossed as to who will win the toss and how many days the test will last.

Posted by AJDoogs on (December 25, 2010, 7:50 GMT)

There is no way that Smith is picked as a specialist batsman. I think Ponting did not bowl him at the WACA to prevent England getting a look at him. My prediction is that he has somthing we are not aware of. I hope the attack is four quicks, Watson and Smith.

Posted by BlueyCollar on (December 25, 2010, 7:48 GMT)

flick, spin, spin, spin, bounce. The poms can have a bat. Go Ricky!!!!!

Posted by Gone-4-Six on (December 25, 2010, 7:16 GMT)

Clarke in form? I don't think so. He's done little this series.

Posted by maslam20 on (December 25, 2010, 6:59 GMT)

tooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo hot now,,,, boxing day,,,

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 6:53 GMT)

Expecting a good show from Hussey (again), Watson and Smith..

Posted by Okakaboka on (December 25, 2010, 6:09 GMT)

Poor team selection leaves no alternative than to leave Smith out. He is not a test standard batsman and therefore can only be expected to make 10 - 20 runs which is what one might expect Siddle or Beer to make anyway. He is not a bowling option for extended bowling periods....therefore logic would make him 12th man. Yes, we are a batsman light...but we are that anyway thanks to the stupidity of Hilditch & Co. However,....that said selectors; particulary 1s & 0s Hilditch will leave Siddle out and prevent him being motivated by his home ground. They add about 5 kms/hr to his bowling so we could see him breaking the 150 km barrier. The West Indies did very well with their all pace attack because there was no let up. Hilditch is going to make 90,000 fans (- balmy army) very unhappy because no one has figured out how to take the blinkers of his head. Why do you think Victoria keep flogging NSW? Easy....Hilditch keeps motivating Victorians!!!!

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 6:08 GMT)

I would hope 4 a draw or aussie win to keep it uncertain who will hold the ashes at the end of the series. A big Sydney test to see who is on top would be great

Posted by landl47 on (December 25, 2010, 5:47 GMT)

If Bresnan plays instead of Finn, the batting is strengthened and, if the pitch is slow and low as advertised, the bowling is probably better suited to the conditions as well. I don't think it matters much how Australia tinkers with its side; if Johnson can produce another spell like the one in Perth, I like Australia to win. If he can't then a draw seems likely unless the pitch takes spin, in which case England might eke out a win. A draw and all to play for in Sydney would be a good result.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 4:46 GMT)

Come on we(ozi's) don't need beer, if....?then.... we need haurtiz. selectors don't take chance with some one new. we have to win this ashes .

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 4:30 GMT)

I 'ld really love to see Monty given a go in a 2-man spin & pace attack.. I 'll always go with the logic of playing ur best 4 or 5 bowlers, in most conditions... and Monty is certainly a better Test bowler than Finn or Bresnan..

Posted by Micgyver on (December 25, 2010, 4:03 GMT)

Im not sure whether Smith has the goods in the spin bowling to lead the attack in the 2nd innings.However in saying that,how could you drop Siddle on his home ground,someone who is surely going to fire up even more then Perth?And dropping Hilfenhaus again is not the answer,he bowled well in Perth for little results. Im gunna have to have a Beer and think about this...

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 3:47 GMT)

I want to see watson convert his starts into a big ton. He deserves it. And that coming from a nuetral South African

Posted by KingofRedLions on (December 25, 2010, 3:44 GMT)

Smith can not be relied upon to be a number one spinner, Witty.

Posted by Andy500265 on (December 25, 2010, 3:09 GMT)

Ditch Clarke for Khawaja, Siddle for Hauritz or Beer (preferably Hauritz) and Smith for Dave Hussey.

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 25, 2010, 2:53 GMT)

surely things cant keep going well for england. i think and hope that normal order commences and ponting and clarke and watson and the bowlers put in a typically aussiedominant boxing day performance.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2010, 2:33 GMT)

i think Aussie dominate the match, bcz watson, hussey , clarke & haddin in good form.

Posted by Something_Witty on (December 25, 2010, 1:41 GMT)

Beer shouldn't play. If we want spin we have Smithy. 'Nuff said.

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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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