Rain marred the traditional boxing day test for the 2nd year in a row, however on this occasion there was no last day heroics by either team and the game ended in a draw. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Steve Smith on the final day, the story could have been very different. The Australian captain notched his 23rd test century and fought to see the game off to a draw.
The fact of the matter is that England were the better team on occasion and perhaps even deserved a win. Stuart Broad finally stood up with the bat and ball, troubling the Australian batsmen in the first innings albeit on a pitch that offered little or nothing to the bowlers.
Similarly, Alastair Cook played one of the superb innings ever seen in an Ashes series carrying his bat for an unbeaten 244 to return to form majestically, without which England may have found themselves in trouble.
Jackson Bird and Josh Hazlewood both struggled on the benign pitch and couldn’t seem to wrap up the tail with the same efficiency of Mitchell Starc while Nathan Lyon struggled to get the same spin and bounce he has enjoyed all series so far.
All in all, England should be proud of their effort and performance in the 4th Ashes test. If rain had not robbed them of a few sessions here and there, they would have more than likely won, the test match on a very flat pitch that looked like a draw for all money on the first morning. Alastair Cook reminded us all why he is the highest run scorer in the world at the moment and Steve Smith reminded us why he is the number one test batsman in the world.
This brings us to the traditional New Years test which will begin on Thursday. England and Australia will be desperate to start 2018 strongly and start their push for that all elusive number 1 test ranking that India have tied down at the moment. The Aussies will be salivating at the thought of a 4-0 series victory before jetting off to South Africa while England will look to gain some momentum and confidence for the one-day series.
The SCG pitch tends to be more friendly to spin bowlers and Australia regularly play two frontline spinners and with Ashton Agar added to the squad, it seems as though this trend will continue. But a the expense of who? He is more than capable with the bat and could easily replace Mitchell Marsh as the all-round option, slotting in at 7 and pushing Tim Paine up to 6.
If Mitchell Starc can’t prove his fitness Agar will more than likely be a straight swap for Jackson Bird. There are a number of possibilities, but we will have to wait until Thursday morning to know for sure what Australia’s XI will be.
Australian Batsmen under pressure
Usman Khawaja and Cameron Bancroft will be a little more nervous heading into the final test then the rest of the team as their places in the Australian Side are on a Knifes edge. So far in this series, Bancroft has a top score of 82 not out and averages just under 30 while Usman has scrapped a pair of 50s and averages 27. If either of them fails to perform in Sydney, they will be fearing for their spot in the team ahead of a crucial and challenging tour of South Africa next month.
England to change things up?
It looks as though young leg-spinner Mason Crane will make his Ashes debut in Sydney. Crane spent a good portion of time playing for Northern Sydney club Gordon last season and even made an appearance for NSW in the Australian first-class scene. Crane knows the general condition of Sydney Pitches and looks set to replace either Moeen Ali or Tom Curran in the England XI.
Although Curran performed more than admirably in the boxing day test on debut, I believe that Moeen should be given one more chance on a wicket that is likely to suit his bowling more than any other pitch in Australia. So far this series Ali has been horribly out of sorts taking just 3 wickets at 135. Ali has been struggling with a cut along his spinning finger which is a more than adequate reason for his lack of spin, but if his cut has healed, then he deserves to be able to see the series through.
Weather permitting the Sydney test should be a thoroughly entertaining affair. The SCG is one of the oldest Buildings in Australia that is still in use and one of the most picturesque cricketing grounds in the world. The third day of the Sydney test marks Jane McGrath day, a fabulous tradition in which the Sydney fans dress in pink in order to raise awareness for Breast Cancer so expect to see some fantastic outfits on the television this weekend. I predict another Australian Victory but perhaps not as convincing as some. Crane to take 5 wickets on debut and Steve Smith to Join Don Bradman as the only other person to score 4 centuries in an Ashes series.