While rising COVID-19 cases and rain will present logistical challenges to this week’s fourth Ashes Test, another limp performance from England would be a threat to the already damaged credibility of the iconic series.
Without a single century or five-wicket haul to their collective name in three heavy losses in the series to date, the tourists have only pride to play for when they take to Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for day one on Wednesday.
Day three on Friday will mark exactly 11 years since England last won a Test match Down Under, a famous January morning when Andrew Strauss’s side mopped up the remaining three Australian wickets to secure an innings and 83-run victory.
A crowd of 19,000 England fans celebrated wildly at the SCG as the wickets tumbled to seal an emphatic 3-1 series triumph built on disciplined bowling and big batting.
Since that morning, England have managed to eke out just a single draw in 13 Tests over three tours and the last two Ashes Tests in Sydney have resulted in humiliating defeats.
Australia have enjoyed dominance for lengthy periods before, and England will feel they can still be competitive on home soil, but the lustre of the Ashes so apparent in 2011 has dulled considerably over the last month.
Preparations for the Sydney Test have been as complicated as the rest of the tour with England coach Chris Silverwood unable to travel with the squad because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the camp.
The under-utilised Stuart Broad has finally been brought back into the bowling attack for the match and England fans will be hoping it is not a case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Embattled captain Joe Root, who will not consider his position until after the tour, defiantly maintained that his squad has the talent to challenge Australia at the SCG and in the fifth Test in Hobart.
“We are better than the performances we have put in, and we have two chances to try and get something from the rest of the tour,” he told reporters on Monday.
Australia, by contrast, could hardly be in better shape as they look to sweep the series to bolster their position in the World Test Championship standings.
Travis Head, who tested positive for COVID-19, will be replaced in the middle order by Usman Khawaja, who made his debut in the 2011 Ashes Test at the SCG.
Paceman Josh Hazlewood is still struggling with a side strain he picked up in the series opener in Brisbane so the selectors have stuck with Scott Boland.
Boland’s six for seven in the second innings on his Test debut helped the hosts to an innings and 14-run victory in Melbourne, underlining the current depth of Australian fast bowling.
Glenn McGrath, one of Australia’s all time great pacemen, is likely to be absent from the SCG after testing positive for COVID-19 but his breast cancer charity will again turn the ground pink on day three of the Test.
McGrath will perhaps be comforted a little by the knowledge that his traditional Ashes prediction of a 5-0 whitewash for Australia remains very much on the cards.
Factbox: Fourth Ashes Test
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney – Capacity: 48,000
January 5 to 9 — Play starts at 10:30 a.m. local time (5am IST)
AUSTRALIA (World ranking: 3)
Team: Pat Cummins (captain), David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland.
Coach: Justin Langer
ENGLAND (World ranking: 4)
Team: Joe Root (captain), Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
Coach: Chris Silverwood
WHAT THE BOOKMAKERS SAY*
Australia win: 6/5
England win: 9/1
Umpires: Rod Tucker (Australia), Paul Reiffel (Australia)
TV umpire: Paul Wilson (Australia)
Match referee: Steve Bernard (Australia)
HISTORY (Previous Australia v England Tests in Sydney)
Australia wins: 27
England wins: 22
First Test: Australia won by nine wickets at the Gabba
Second Test: Australia won by 275 runs at the Adelaide Oval
Third Test: Australia won by inns and 14 runs
(*Odds courtesy of William Hill)
Source: Read Full Article