Melbourne: Australia will look to extend their Christmas cheer into the dead rubber Boxing Day Test by subjecting a demoralised England to a fourth consecutive loss in the Ashes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) when the game begins Monday.
Anchored by the brilliant batting of captain Steve Smith, the hosts have barely put a foot wrong in the five-match series and will head to the MCG confident of pushing England toward a second successive whitewash on home soil. Australia, however, had to spend a few anxious minutes during training when Smith was hit on his right hand by a stray ball. He was in obvious discomfort, but opener and vice-captain, David Warner said later in the day that Smith would play the game.
Australia, however, will be without their pace spearhead, Mitchell Starc, who is nursing a heel injury and has been replaced by Jackson Bird. Right-armer Bird also has ample MCG experience, having made his Test debut against Sri Lanka at the MCG and also bowled in last year’s Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.
“They’ve had three bowlers who can all bowl 90 miles an hour (144 kph),” England paceman James Anderson told the ‘BBC’ of Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. “But you look beyond that, they’ve got problems.
England however, have a few of their own issues to deal with, not least the worrying form of their senior players. With opening batsman Alastair Cook and paceman Stuart Broad both enduring a poor series, England have multiple problems on their hands.
The tourists’ lack of pace has been exposed on Australia’s flat wickets, so selectors might opt to recall Durham fast man Mark Wood for the game in place of Craig Overton, who is injured.
England’s last trip here was a miserable one, as Michael Clarke’s Australia thrashed Cook’s tourists by eight wickets to take a 4-0 lead in the series.
Starc, Overton to miss match
Melbourne: Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc has been ruled out of the fourth Ashes Test with a heel injury while England paceman Craig Overton will also miss the match here with a fractured rib. Starc sustained a bruised heel during the Perth Test. Although scans ruled that there was no serious injury to the 27-year-old, Starc said that it would have been unfair to his teammates to play when not fully fit. “I still feel like I could have played on it… but it would have put the other guys under pressure if I’d had to pull out midway through a game.”