Fourth Ashes Test Preview: Can England Avoid a Boxing Day Massacre?

Cricket Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Image Credit: mugley via flickr

A change is as good as a rest, so the old saying goes, and boy must England’s selectors be keen to change the current starting eleven.

After getting thumped in the opening two tests, they bizarrely opted to name an unchanged line-up for the third match – a defeat by a margin of an innings and 41 runs duly followed.

What’s most annoying, from an England supporter’s perspective, is that the players keep banging on about ‘being competitive’. What they mean is, they have played well for one or two days, but that simply isn’t good enough against a rampant Australia.

Put it this way: Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh could have batted until next Christmas in Perth if they had really wanted to on a road of a pitch, while England were hugely indebted to tons from Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan to make their first innings tally of 403 look far less embarrassing than in truth it was.

England’s Selection Problems

Moeen Ali
Credit: Flickr

Changes will probably follow for England: Craig Overton, one of the most impressive performers so far from an English perspective, is unlikely to be risked, and if Stuart Broad’s knee problem is flaring up then the Three Lions will need to replace Overton with a seamer who can get through a heavy workload: young Tom Curran fits the bill over the fragile Mark Wood.

Moeen Ali should probably be dropped given his ineffective performances with bat and ball, but in truth there is no way to replace him without weakening the side. Mason Crane is not a batsman of any note, so his introduction weakens the tail, and if somebody like Gary Ballance is brought in then there is no frontline spin option in England’s armoury.

Basically, the English selectors have absolutely missed the mark when selecting their squad earlier in the year, and now the Three Lions are paying the penalty by having a set of players who are undroppable….for all the wrong reasons.

Best Bets

It’s not very often that punters can be advised to rush down the betting shop or log on to their apps to place a wager at odds of 8/15, but really there is no other solution here.

Australia, naturally an odds-on fancy given their dominance, have to be backed here. As mentioned, England cannot make the wholesale changes they need to their starting eleven, and there has been very little – Malan, Bairstow, Overton and flashes from Mark Stoneman and James Anderson apart – to suggest the Three Lions are able to ‘win’ five days of a test match at present.

Australian Cricket Team
Credit: World Cricket Flickr

Punters can discount the draw, too. Only one of the last nineteen tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground have ended in stalemate, and despite there being rain around last week the forecast is good for all five available days from Boxing Day onwards.

Can anyone really see England winning here? They would have to overcome the odds – the Aussies have won 15 of their last 18 tests at the MCG – and there are no hints to suggest they are up to it.

If your post-Christmas bank balance could do with a top up, backing Australia to win this fourth test could be a smart way of going about it.

A Starc Warning to Punters

Mitchell Starc
Credit: NAPARAZZI Flickr

The hosts aren’t without their own problems, however. Mitchell Starc was photographed with his foot in a bucket of ice during the Aussies’ celebrations after winning the third test, and he would eventually leave the ground on crutches.

A heel injury has been cited as the course, and while Starc himself is positive about his chances of playing, he certainly won’t want to suffer the same fate as seam bowling compatriot Pat Cummins. He was struck down by a similar heel injury a couple of years ago, carried on playing and it worsened in severity to a potentially career-changing stress fracture.

So you wouldn’t blame the green caps if they wrapped Starc up in cotton wool; such is the importance of the left-armer to this side.

If he doesn’t take to the field in Melbourne then there is a very real chance that Josh Hazlewood will lead the Australia attack. His series form of 15 wickets at 23.30 apiece is second only to Starc, and Steve Smith would have no hesitation in chucking him the ball as his premier seamer.

Hazlewood took five wickets in last year’s Boxing Day test – the huge win over Pakistan – and punters are advised to back the right-armer to be the Aussies’ Top Bowler at 5/2 before the odds tumble if/when Starc is announced as absent.