The Ashes: Fourth Test Preview

Batsman hits ball

We preview the fourth Ashes Test set to get underway on Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

With comfortable victories gathered in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, Australia can start to target a repeat of the series whitewashes achieved in 2014 and 2017.

England, well, require nothing short of a complete turnaround to arrest what has been a desperate slide down under. The knives are out on all fronts, with options to retaliate rather limited.

Australia v England | 26 December - 30 December | Melbourne Cricket Ground 

To Win Match
Australia 5/10 | Draw 7/2 | England 9/2

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The host XI will take on a considerably different look, if Mitchell Starc and Tim Paine don't play. Starc is nursing injury, while Paine is on family leave. The latter's exit could spell a return for Peter Handscomb or Peter Nevill.

Sticking a makeshift limited-overs wicketkeeper in Handscomb behind the stumps for a Test match, though, seems ill-conceived - so Nevill would be the stronger option. For Starc, the Aussies could play Jackson Bird or Chadd Sayers.

While labelling Steven Smith Don Bradman-esque has been pretty far-fetched, there is no doubting the captain's brilliance with the bat. The talismanic right-hander has been prolific for an extended period now -  and here's to a successful end to 2017, too.

The Aussies have been dominant, yes, but will want to get on top of Dawid Malan. They won't appreciate how comfortable he has looked at the crease - and he can expect a barrage of short deliveries for his stubbornness.

The home side have only lost three of their last 20 Test matches at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Two of those defeats have come at the hands of England, the last of which was in 2010.

Criticism aplenty has lined England's campaign and, characteristically so, they need to be careful not to turn on themselves. Defeating the opposition is tough enough, so there's no need to be one's own worst enemy.

Focus, predictably, has turned to Joe Root's role as captain. He is, seemingly, overburdened by the captaincy - this has detracted from his primary post with the bat. The Aussies, of course, will look to exploit this again.

The pace attack has been military medium at best, with an air of 'samey' to each of the four. While James Anderson has done well enough, Stuart Broad is under heavy fire - and it wouldn't really come as a shock if he was left out of the MCG match.

Steven Finn has spoken about how the county circuit doesn't do bowlers any favours, while Malan wants them protected from burnout. Either way, now is not the time to discuss what's wrong back home. The task at hand needs completing, regardless.

Selection-wise, now is as good a chance as any to blood leg-spinner Mason Crane and recall batsman Gary Ballance. The out-and-out pace generated by Mark Wood, meanwhile, should be a must.

Verdict: Australia 5/10
Even if the Australians field a depleted XI, there is just too much for England to rectify in order to get off the mark in this five-match affair.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for Hollywoodbets

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