'Unchangeables' chase Ashes sweep
Feted by the nation across the Boxing Day Test and by the Prime Minister Tony Abbott on New Year's Day in Sydney, Australia's cricketers want nothing more than to complete a 5-0 Ashes sweep of England with the same XI who walked out onto the Gabba for the first day of a series that has surpassed all their expectations.
Stability has been an important ingredient of Australia's success, after the earlier series in England was used by the new coach Darren Lehmann to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a few players. Two of the greatest moments of Australian Test history were characterised by a similar lack of selection conjecture - the 1989 Ashes victors changed their team only once in six Tests, while Mark Taylor's men won a quasi-world title fight in the Caribbean in 1995 with the same XI over four matches.
None of Australia's pacemen bowled at the SCG on the first morning of 2014, resting up in preparation for a final tilt at England. James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile, who played for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League on New Year's Eve, are in reserve. Brad Haddin, the vice-captain and a heavily influential contributor to the current margin, explained how much the players wanted to go through unchanged.
"It'd be great if we could keep the same group together, that's what we're working towards." Haddin said. "The fast bowlers didn't do much today. They're all in pretty good shape, we just have to see tomorrow after they have a bowl but it's all looking in the right direction that we can hold the same group together and from our point of view that would be a massive achievement heading into this Test with the same group we started with. Pretty special for everyone.
"With back to back Test matches, [the bowlers] had a big work load so they didn't need to do much today. It varies, just monitoring on how they're feeling to be perfectly honest. The staff take good care of that and they all looked in pretty good spirits. Bodies feel fine, obviously tired like everyone is at the back end of a five-Test series but they're no different to what we are. We would love to have the same group go out that we did at the start of the tour and if they are right to go they deserve that right to come out in this fifth Test."
As Michael Clarke's deputy and also wicketkeeper, Haddin is constantly measuring the wellbeing of his team. He looks less for individual efforts with bat or ball than those in the field that emphasise team spirit - returns in from the outfield, backing up, chasing and generally supporting the bowlers. When asked how he viewed England's current state, he observed these areas had looked tellingly deficient in Melbourne.
"I don't think they're in a great place to be perfectly honest," Haddin said. "I think you could probably tell a bit of that in their fielding the other day. I think that's the first thing to go when you're struggling a bit. All the team stuff, all those little one percenters, they're the first thing to go when you're struggling as a team.
"The batting and bowling it's an individual thing but I think the team stuff looked like it was breaking a bit the other day. They can ask themselves those questions [if they can turn it around] and they're the only ones who can come up with the answers."
Sydney's pitch has lost much of its support for spin bowlers in recent summers, tending towards a surface more likely to seam early before flattening out into an ideal batting pitch then turning a little more late in the match. The current strip appeared well-grassed on Wednesday, with Haddin saying the roles of the spinners included in the match would revolve as much around bounce as spin.
"It looks like it's got a bit more grass than normal at the SCG. But that also allows spin early in the game," Haddin said. "It holds and you get some spin early in the game. We'll have a close look at what it's like. I think the one thing with spinners and Nathan [Lyon] is that it's not so much whether it breaks up, it's the bounce. If there's enough bounce in there Nathan will get enough out of it."
As for Scott Borthwick, England's prospective legspin debutant, Haddin offered no deviation from the plan of unrelenting attack that has rendered Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar all but impotent throughout the series. Swann is now retired, while Panesar's omission for Borthwick would be a major blow to his own career.
"It'd be an exciting time for him. It's a first Test and it's an Ashes campaign so it's an exciting time," Haddin said. "But interesting to see how we approach him. No doubt [we'll get after him]."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here