The series is still alive, but only just, with England making four changes as they look to hit back
The Ashes is alive heading to Melbourne…thanks to the schedule. In the last two series Australia have had things tied up before Christmas, but with two Tests in the New Year this iconic fixture was always going to have plenty riding on it regardless of what happened in the first two games.
And what has happened is that England have been steamrollered. Sydney, the venue for the fourth Test, has not had an Ashes Test without the urn retained since 1994-95 and it would be a brave person to think it will come the first week of January.
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In the spotlight
When the two parts of Cameron Green‘s game come together he could be a world beater. But it hasn’t quite happened yet. Last season against India his batting impressed as he worked his way back to bowling after injuries. In this series, the bowling has taken centre stage while the batting has been less convincing. It remains early days in what should be a long career, but England’s success against Green has been one of their few plus points (the second-innings runs in Adelaide were largely freebies). At the Gabba he shouldered arms first ball and lost off stump then in Adelaide he was beaten by a terrific delivery from Ben Stokes that did the same damage. Things are not quite in sync. However, he’s still had a major say by removing Joe Root twice. That would be a handy skill to continue.
England’s entire top order is under the scanner, even those who have made runs. In lower-scoring games back home a brace of 80s might be enough on occasions, but that will rarely be the case in Australia. Techniques are being picked apart as well, especially with the opening pair of Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed. The former has lost his place to Zak Crawley. Jos Buttler was a missed chance away from having his series – and maybe Test career – ended after Adelaide. It is not just this contest that has shown up the batting failings, but unless they find some answers it could be a particularly gruesome few weeks.
Australia have juggled their fast-bowling pack again. Cummins’ is back after his enforced absence in place of Michael Neser while Scott Boland will make his debut in place of Jhye Richardson who has a leg injury. Josh Hazlewood has not recovered from his side strain.
Australia 1 David Warner, 2 Marcus Harris, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Scott Boland, 11 Nathan Lyon
As expected, England have made a number of changes. Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad have all been left out in favour of Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Mark Wood and Jack Leach. It means that England have what looks a more balanced attack with the extra pace of Wood and left-arm spin of Leach, although he is sure to be targeted by the Australia batters as he was in Brisbane.
England 1 Haseeb Hameed, 2 Zak Crawley, 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Ollie Robinson, 9 Mark Wood, 10 Jack Leach, 11 James Anderson
Pitch and conditions
The MCG surface has been through a facelift since the last Ashes and everything points to a pitch that should offer something for everyone. There was a decent covering of grass two days out although some of that may be trimmed off. In recent seasons bounce and carry has also returned. The weather is set fair through with temperatures ranging from the low teens to mid-20s so heat should not be a factor.
Stats and trivia
“I love that just about every player from our team has got into the series and had a real big impact.”
Pat Cummins on the team effort from Australia
“The only thing I’m worried about is winning this week. Start well and get that first hour right.”
Joe Root when asked about his future as Test captain
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo