With Australia regaining the Ashes after the most dominant of victories at the WACA by an innings and 41 runs, the hosts turn their attention to Boxing Day and the Melbourne Cricket Ground oozing belief – with their sights on a series whitewash.
England, on the other hand, are a shadow of their former selves and devoid of confidence with this summer’s Ashes shaping up very much like the 2013/14 series, a 5-0 defeat. But there is still two Tests to play and both nations will treat these matches as if the series was still alive. Dead rubbers do not exist when it comes to national pride.
Recently the MCG has become a batting friendly venue where captains have opted to bat first and post large totals – the average first and second innings totals since 2011 are 378 and 384 respectively – but the longer the Test lasts the harder it gets to score with the average third and fourth innings totals during that period just 197 and 214.
Whoever wins the toss and elects to bat first (assuming Joe Root doesn’t have another brain snap) will be in the box-seat if they are able to make the most of a relatively flat MCG wicket. A draw is unlikely with 93 of the 109 Tests played at the venue ending up in a result, 63 won by Australia – and that figure is on strong odds to increase.
Steve Smith (Australia)
If he isn’t Man of the Series already, then Steve Smith will get another opportunity to press his claims by showcasing to the world that he is its number one batsman in the world and a class above anyone else.
Smith averages a ridiculous 127.6 at the MCG with a best of 192 (v India, 2014) and will no doubt be eyeing off another century in front of a packed house in one of Australia’s marquee sporting events. Smith’s captaincy has also blossomed in this Ashes and he seems a lot more confident in his tactics and field placements.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 23, 2017
James Anderson (England)
Anderson is England’s leading wicket taker this series with 12 scalps at 25.83 but he hasn’t been anywhere near as dominant as those figures suggest. When England have needed him to take wickets at key moments he has failed to do so.
Admittedly, Anderson generally struggles in Australia – but as England’s highest-ever Test wicket-taker he needs to show more leadership and to bend his back when it’s his turn. With a strong record of nine wickets at 23.11 at the MCG from two Tests look for Anderson to find his rhythm and help inspire a struggling English attack.
💬Those two guys opening the bowling for us are now the most successful ever seam-bowling partnership that’s ever played the game.💬
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) December 23, 2017
POTENTIAL LINE-UP CHANGES
Even though Mitchell Starc hasn’t suffered a serious injury to his heel, the Australian selectors would be wary that further damage could result in Starc not being fit for the tour to South Africa next year. With the Ashes secured, they have made the correct decision to rest the pace spearhead.
Although he will leave a huge hole in the bowling line-up (19 wickets at 21.05 this summer) his replacement in Jackson Bird – though not a like-for-like swap – should still be able to do a steady job for the remaining two Ashes Tests. Bird has performed more than admirably when called upon, taking 34 wickets at 27 from eight Tests spread out over five years. Starc is yet to play a Boxing Day Test after debuting in December 2011.
— MISSAN WADI (@Dil_Hy_Betaab) December 24, 2017
There has also been talk regarding Tim Paine’s availability for the Boxing Day Test. The wicketkeeper is yet to arrive in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test and is currently spending time with his family after his father-in-law was hospitalised due to a stroke.
If Paine ruled himself out it would leave the selectors with a slight issue regarding who will wear the gloves after snubbing former Test keepers Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill. With the Ashes wrapped up, it would be an ideal time to cast an eye to the future by giving South Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey a call-up. That said, Paine is reportedly set to catch a later flight and take the gloves in what would be his first Boxing Day Test.
— Herald Sun Sport (@heraldsunsport) December 22, 2017
With England struggling to bowl the Aussies out once a Test let alone twice, tactics and personnel must change. After snaring only 37 wickets compared to Australia’s 60 from the three Tests, England need to inject enthusiasm and youth to find a spark and take a positive out of this tour, which has been disastrous to date.
Even though England have been reasonably competitive, they haven’t come close to winning a Test. Adding some variety to a plain bowling attack can help change that.
Stuart Broad hasn’t had his best year (25 wickets in 10 Tests at 39.48 and five wickets at 61.8 this Ashes) and needs to be dropped for someone with more energy in Mark Wood.
— Times Sport (@TimesSport) December 17, 2017
Likewise, all-rounder Moeen Ali could find himself on the outer after having a poor tour (three wickets at 105.33 and only 116 runs from six innings) and be replaced by young leg-spinner Mason Crane. It is unlikely to happen at the MCG but another poor match and Crane will be a huge chance to debut at the SCG in the New Year’s Test.
Despite England’s opening batsmen Mark Stoneman curiously stating that Australia haven’t played better than England, the scoreboard clearly shows a gulf between the two countries.
Australia have England right where they want them – whatever the tourists have thrown at the Aussies, they have handled it with relative ease and can sense a series whitewash. Australia will once again stamp their authority and wrap up the fourth Test inside four days.
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 23, 2017
— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) December 24, 2017
Predicted changes to the XIs
Australia: In – Jackson Bird; Out – Mitchell Starc.
England: In – Mark Wood; Out – Stuart Broad/Craig Overton (injury pending)