Hopefully, Christmas has been kind to those of you reading this but if you’re an English cricket fan then you’ve not had much to celebrate all winter and this fourth test at the MCG is likely to pile on the post Christmas misery.
Australia have the urn already but what they really want is the whitewash and they’re no better than 11/10 to make it another 5-0, and they’re 8/11 with Betfair to make it 4-0 which frankly looks too good to pass up.
England have had their moments in this series, but they have been a) fewer and fewer as the series has gone on and b) they have not been enough to prevent the loss, rather comprehensively on the scoreboard, of all three tests so far.
They were at their most threatening when tearing through the Aussie line-up in Adelaide, but those unique conditions were their best chance of a test win and the opportunity had been lost when Australia made 442/8 in the first innings.
England’s batsmen have not been able to cope with the attacking trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins in terms of pace, whilst Nathan Lyon has been a crucial difference maker, and it’s unlikely that will change. Despite reaching 368-4 batting first, with centuries for Malan and Bairstow, they lost by an innings and 41 runs on the country’s flattest pitch and whilst they are clearly at seas in these conditions, the best team has been winning.
Mitchell Starc misses this test with a slight heel complaint which means Jackson Bird replaces him but that is likely to offer little comfort for England given that Hazelwood and Cummins are still going to be around, along with Nathan Lyon. He did as much as could be expected at Perth given the surface, but his record everywhere else shows his quality and he has 14 wickets through the tour so it’s unlikely England will be able to escape.
Lyon has exactly 23 wickets at exactly 30 apiece in four Tests here and as taken at least three wickets in three of his last four innings here. He took 5-50 against England in the last series and should be raring to fill the gap.
This is a good batting surface in the main, though, with plenty of 500+ scores in recent times; Indeed, Pakistan made 443/9 before Australia went past 600 in their reply and the Aussies scored more than 500+ in their match against the Windies the previous year.
Steve Smith will have to find a slightly different way to bat after suffering a freakish blow to the hand at training, but that is unlikely to prevent him from his relentless runscoring charge and he looks worth backing to score a century. Smith has made 141* and 239 already this series and is the leading runscorer by a long way but his record here is extraordinary. He averages 127 here and his last three first innings at the MCG have yielded 192, 134* and 165*, so take the 5/2 he scores a century and the evens that he makes a half century if you don’t feel like going big.
The other two to take advantage might be the Marsh brothers; Shaun was impenetrable on his way to 126 in the most difficult conditions in Adelaide, whilst Mitchell’s 181 went at a faster rate than Captain Smith’s when last seen.
For England, the top order are well worth taking on once again. The ball has become increasingly hard to manipulate through innings here and two middle order batsmen make appeal. James Vince might be the man to top score. He’s looked the most comfortable (consistently) of any England batsman here despite some dodgy dismissals and this surface should give him a decent chance to get set in and repeat his first innings 83 all the way at the Gabba.
Dawid Mawlan has been one of the bright spots of a bleak tour so far and led the ‘resistance’ with his second innings 55 to add to his 141 in the first innings and this bouncy surface and fast outfield should suit. Both of them will be likely to avoid the new ball bounce, which is often half the battle.
7 pts Australia (8/11 general)
2pts Steve Smith to score a first innings century (5/2 general)
1 pt Mitchell Marsh to score a first innings century (10/1 Stan James)
1 pt Shaun Marsh to score a first innings century (7/1 Stan James)
1 pt James Vince to top score in England’s first innings (6/1 SkyBet)
1 pt Dawid Malan to top score in England’s first innings (7/1 SkyBet)