England Look to Save Face in Traditional Boxing Day test

90,000 eager cricket fans will pack the MCG tomorrow to see the continuation of the 2017/18 Ashes series. While the next 2 games are effectively dead rubbers, they are far from meaningless. Australia will be keen to push their advantage even further and whitewash the series while England will be desperate the regain some respect and finish the series with a couple of wins and gain some momentum before a highly anticipated one-day series in January.

The last time Australia lost a boxing day test was in fact to England in 2010 when the visitors bowled Australia out in the first innings for 98 and went on to win the test by more than an innings. England will be hoping for more of the same 7 years on.

Starc Out, Paine in?

Mitchell Starc has been ruled out of the 4th test with a bruised heel on his landing foot. The left-armed quick was desperate to prove his fitness and play in the calendars’ most famous test but was unable to improve enough to justify his selection. He will be replaced by right armed fast-medium Jackson Bird.

Bird has a superb test record with 34 wickets in his 8 tests so far at an average of 27.47. He has also been in outstanding form in the current first-class season and was a no-brainer to pick for the boxing day test. Starc’s injury will take away some of the variety that makes Australia’s pace attack so well balanced. However, Bird will provide consistency and swing while the enforcing duties will be taken on my Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Tim Paine is likewise in doubt as he comes to terms with a family illness but is expected to line up on boxing day. If he isn’t able to play, it is likely that Peter Handscomb will be recalled to take the gloves in front of his home crowd. Other than this Australia will go into the 4th test with the same men.

Anderson Comments

James Anderson has come out mid-week, slamming the short ball tactics of the Australian fast bowlers to the tail, raising concerns to the umpires over his own personal safety while batting. It is true that umpires have the power of discretion over whether bowling is dangerous when taking into account a batsman’s level of skill and experience. James is unlikely to receive any such special treatment from umpires if he lines up in the boxing day test and quite rightly.

This is test cricket, he has played 132 test and scored over a thousand test runs. He has faced short balls his whole career (as has every number 11 in world cricket) so it is unclear as to why this is such a problem now and wasn’t 4 years ago or even 11 years ago when the treatment was much the same. Let’s not forget which country invented bodyline tactics.

England Team

The one thing that is clear to all cricket fans is that the England team has to change, whether it be a change in tactics or a change in personnel. It is already known that England fast bowler Craig Overton will not take part in the boxing day test and will likely be replaced by either uncapped and South African born Tom Curran who has a tidy 171 FC wickets at 29.14 under his belt or the more experienced Mark Wood who caused Australia some issues in the 2015 Ashes Series.

Overton was by far England’s most impressive bowler in Perth, and the visitors will sorely miss his commitment. Stuart Broad should count himself lucky that a replacement will be brought in by necessity rather than at his expense. If England are to regain some respect and pride Broad needs to step up with the ball and the bat. The conditions will suit him slightly more in Melbourne with the ball, and he must lead from the front. England’s batting, on the other hand, is unlikely to change at all despite another embarrassing collapse in Perth. Moeen Ali is likely to be given another chance as is James Vince after an impressive half century in the 2nd innings in Perth.

I genuinely hope England can be more competitive in the Boxing day test. They have shown glimpses of real quality that suggest there is an excellent test side under the fragile surface and fickle lower order. What is most important and hardest of all to achieve for them now is the mental strength to get back up and keep fighting to the bitter end. England have lost 2 of the past 3 series in Australia 5-0 and will be absolutely desperate to avoid the same result this time around, but a poor start for the visitors in this test will lead to a drop of the head and a win for the home side, and once it goes 4-0 I can only see one thing happening at the SCG in the new year.

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