Ruthless Australia should retain Ashes focus
Punters can expect big tons in Boxing Day Test at the MCG
BT Sport 1, 11.30pm Monday
England have suffered 5-0 defeats on two of their last three Ashes tours of Australia and, after comprehensive defeats in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, another series whitewash is no bigger than 11-10.
Jason Gillespie, the former Australia fast bowler, wrote this week that there is no such thing as a dead rubber in the Ashes and the hosts are 4-7 to continue their winning run in Melbourne after regaining the urn.
The prospect of a 5-0 victory should focus Australian minds, particularly as there has been a distinct lack of goodwill between the sides in the first three matches, and inspirational skipper Steve Smith has a wonderful Test record at the MCG.
Don Bradman is, inevitably, the leading runscorer at the venue but Smith averages 127 – just one run lower than the peerless Don – after centuries in each of his last three Melbourne Test appearances.
Smith is not the only batsman to have cashed in on drop-in pitches at the G recently and the traditional Boxing Day Test could prove to be a tough one for the bowlers.
Mitchell Starc, the top wicket-taker in the series, is doubtful with a heel injury while England’s toothless bowling displays mean debuts for Tom Curran and Mason Crane have been mooted.
A first Test outing in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the MCG is a thrilling, if daunting, prospect for the 22-year-old Curran and 20-year-old Crane but England – 5-1 outsiders for the Test – are willing to try anything as they attempt to stop the rot.
England lost by an innings and 41 runs at the Waca despite reaching 368-4 batting first and there is a sense that anything the tourists’ batsmen can do, Smith and co will do bigger and better.
The Australia skipper and Shaun Marsh scored crucial unbeaten centuries in the first two Tests while Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow’s centuries in Perth were overshadowed by Smith’s 239 and Mitchell Marsh’s hard-hitting 181.
Bet365 offer 5-6 about any player scoring 146 or more in the fourth Test and that looks well worth a bet given the high totals in recent Melbourne Tests.
Pakistan’s Azhar Ali made an unbeaten 205 in a losing cause last year as Smith (165 not out) and David Warner (144) also went big.
In 2015 four of Australia’s top five scored first-innings centuries against the West Indies and a year earlier Smith made 192, Virat Kohli 169 and Ajinkya Rahane 147 in the draw with India.
With those stats in mind, Hills’s first-innings runs line of 23.5 for England’s James Vince looks too low. The number three has been criticised for his tendency to nick the ball when playing loose shots but much of the frustration is because he appears so comfortable at this level at times.
He looked primed for a century at the Gabba in the first Test before being run out for 83 and made 25 and 55 at the Waca, batting beautifully in the second innings before getting an unplayable delivery from Starc.
Vince is 6-1 to top-score for England – Alastair Cook’s slump in form has seen him shoved out to 5-1 – but backing him to reach 24 is a more solid punt.
Sky Bet are dangling 8-15 about Australia claiming a first-innings lead, which they’ve done in the first three Tests despite losing the toss on each occasion.
The same firm are a standout 6-1 about Smith being named man of the match and that has to be worth an interest given his amazing form in this series and his superb MCG record.
Highest individual score over 145.5
4pts 5-6 bet365
J Vince to score over 23.5 first-innings runs
3pts 5-6 Hills
S Smith to be man of the match
1pt 6-1 Sky Bet
Australia were bowled out for 204 and 98 in the first innings of their last two Ashes Tests at the MCG but the three most recent matches have been laden with runs for the home batsmen.
The hosts have won 14 of the 17 Tests at the venue since 2000 and the drop-in pitches don’t tend to offer much seam movement to the quick bowlers. Spinner Nathan Lyon could be a factor for Australia, having claimed 19 wickets in his last four MCG Tests.
Starc is rated 50-50 to play so Jackson Bird is waiting in the wings. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine may miss out due to a family illness with Peter Handscomb filling in behind the stumps.
Craig Overton’s cracked rib is likely to rule him out and the uncapped Crane and Curran are bowling alternatives for England.
Sunny and dry for the first two days, with highs of 35C. Cloudy with the odd light shower on days three, four and five.
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