Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground (Victoria)
Date: 26-30 December 2013
Time: 23:30 (GMT)
The Ashes may have already gone at the earliest opportunity but there’s still plenty to play for between these great rivals. Since the third test at Perth Graeme Swann has retired from all forms of cricket and with the series decided England may well take the opportunity to ‘retire’ some other senior players as they look towards the future. Australia meanwhile will be going all out to whitewash the visitors in a similar manner to the great side of 2006/7, adding to the intrigue during the final two tests of the series. With 90,000 spectators likely to be crammed into the famous MCG the atmosphere promises to be electric during one of the biggest dates in the cricket calendar offering the perfect stage for any of the 22 cricketers on display to make a name for themselves. With speculation rife regarding a number of the England teams future there’s a strong possibility that some of them could very well be playing for their international careers over the next five days.
Australia look set to name an unchanged side for the fourth successive test, a far cry from the chopping and changing of the summer series. Michael Clarke’s back and Ryan Harris’s knees have held up well so far and as Clarke pursues history there’s no chance that him and coach Darren Lehmann will take their foot off the gas.
Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon
England have once again been forced into making at least once change after Graeme Swann’s shock retirement, with Monty Panesar likely to replace him in the XI. Scott Borthwick and James Tredwell may come into contention for the spinners role at Sydney but for this test at least Panesar has the chance to re-establish himself as the visitors lead tweaker. Wicket keeper Matt Prior looks set to make way for Jonny Bairstow as Andy Flower looks towards the future while Boyd Rankin could make his test debut at the expense of Tim Bresnan, who appeared to be below his best at the WACA. Stuart Broad has overcome his foot injury and the likes of Kevin Pieterson and James Anderson have avoided the same treatment as Prior so they’ll keep their places in the team.
Likely team: Cook (c), Carberry, Bell, Pieterson, Root, Stokes, Bairstow (wk), Broad, Anderson, Rankin, Panesar
Pitch and weather
The second drop in surface of the series promises to offer early assistance to the seam bowlers before flattening out as the match wears on. Large boundary dimensions make the ‘G a difficult ground to take the slow bowlers on but with the wicket offering little turn it’ll still be tough for Panesar and Australian spinner Nathan Lyon to get much out of the surface.
There’s a slight chance of showers on the second day but apart from that the weather is set fair and a full compliment of overs should be completed during the five days. Temperatures on the Saturday could reach a scorching 36 degrees Celsius.
Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena
Following one of the most lopsided three game stretches in recent memory it will take a minor Christmas miracle for England to turn this series around and repeat their Boxing Day success from three years ago. The task will prove especially difficult without Swann but there’s a fantastic opportunity for the likes of Monty Panesar and Jonny Bairstow to cement a place in the team for the fifth test and beyond. Australian teams are famously ruthless and having smelt English blood Michael Clarke will want to be part of the second Ashes whitewash during his storied career. Unfortunately I fear that the visitors are in such disarray that there’s little they can do to bounce back during this series, especially without team mainstays such as Swann and Prior in the lineup. As a result I fully expect Australia to make it 4-0 and edge ever closer to a dreaded whitewash.