Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Special

No cricket fan worth his salt wants to miss the St. Stephen's Day (yes) test at the MCG. Over the past couple of years, it might not have had the same fizz about it, given the circumstances of the series involved. This year, it cannot but entertain.

The series stands at 1-1, but even the most optimistic Aussies will know that they've only won four or five sessions in the first three tests. The English team still looks a more settled balanced unit. On the other hand, we've seen England self-destruct before, albeit more rarely these days.
So what do we have in store from 11pm tonight?

Ricky Ponting is good to play - whether a few Aussies will be wondering if this is a yea or nay is another matter. When you come down to it, no one really wants to see Michael Clarke captaining the team at this stage of an Ashes - except maybe Strauss and Flower. It's impossible to believe that Ponting won't have a good knock at some point in the series - the MCG faithful just have to hope that they can inspire that innings.
Mike Hussey has kept Australia in the series so far - with 517 runs, he looks in the form of his life. We always knew he loved a pressure situation (T20 semi-final 2010, the Oval - Ashes 2009), but without him we'd be staring an English whitewash in the face. Brad Haddin has given him decent support at number 7, and Watson has chipped in with a few useful runs, but Ponting and Clarke need a hundred between them in the 1st innings. Haddin really has to move ahead of Smith - he showed at Brisbane that he's not a pounder who comes in late - his century there was one of the most mature and calculated innings I've ever witnessed.

No one knows whether Mitchell Johnson will show up again, but for the sake of a spectacle, I hope he does. It was incredible to see him back, firing on all cylinders, and he's given the Aussies some chirpiness again. Before we forget though, he tore England apart at Headingley in 2009, before relapsing into torpor at the Oval.

The big question is over the spinner. My two cents - you CANNOT play Michael Beer. This guy, aside from having taken 7 first class wickets in his career, had never met half the team before last week. There'll be clamourings about the Oval in 2009, but that is a different matter. They left out a capped and, to a certain extent, proven spinner in Hauritz - Michael Beer? He's Xavier Doherty Mark II. Smith and Clarke may not be Warnes, but they'll give them something, and with Hilfenhaus keeping it tight at one end they should be able to build some pressure.

The English media have been trying to create a story over the pitch preparation, calling it a conspiracy. What? Since when has it not been OK for the hosts to prepare the tracks that suit them best. The dust bowl that was the Oval last time round suited Swann down to the ground - it's only natural that Cameron Hodgkins should prepare a pitch to follow the Perth success. It's not going to be as bouncy, but hopefully he can make it spicy enough to give the seamers something to think about.

As for England, they shouldn't be too worried. They know that they're still on top - aside from anything else, they still only need one more win to retain the urn. It looks like Finn might drop out - I think you have to bring in Shahzad - he's a bit of a liability as regards control, but so was Finn. He'll give you the potential of some reverse swing, and bowl some wicket deliveries. Bresnan is a solid bowler, and will give you control at one end, but England have to be aggressive, and Bresnan simply isn't the aggressive play.
It looks as though Paul Collingwood will retain his spot at number 5 - Eoin Morgan might feel aggrieved, but Colly will hang on because of his fielding and his usefulness as a 5th bowler. Despite not being given the ball all that much so far, they have him in reserve, and his lack of runs won't cost him his place before the end of the series.

Well, I just can't wait. There is no better Christmas Day than that which culminates in an Ashes test at the MCG, particularly in a series as nicely poised as this.

Happy Christmas

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