Ashes 2017: Boxing Day Test preview
Australia reclaimed the legendary Ashes Urn after their comprehensive win in the third Test against England in Perth, defeating the visitors by an innings and 41 runs to go 3-0 up in the series. With two matches still to go, the Englishmen face the prospect of getting whitewashed, which if it happens would be the third time in the last four series in Australia.
Captain Steve Smith and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh set the Australians on their way as they put on a stand of 301, with Smith ending up with a mammoth 239 while Marsh added 181. The Kangaroos scored 662/9 in response to England's 403 and then relied on their bowling attack to dismiss the opposition comfortably in the second innings, skittling them out for 218.
Going into the famous Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the home side are the clear favourites to take out the test. This sentiment is reflected by the bookmakers, with CrownBet’s Boxing Day Test odds in clear favour of an Australian victory come match day.
Steve Smith has led from the front for the Aussies and would be looking to continue his individual brilliant form. He has a total of 426 runs in the series at an average of 142 and is the top run-getter. The Australian captain has been ably supported by Shaun Marsh and David Warner and the three of them should do well at the MCG.
England's batsmen have in general struggled, with the exception of Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, who have stuck it out, scoring 302 and 241 runs respectively. Captain Joe Root has found the going tough and needs to register a big knock in the Boxing Day Test to get his confidence back.
The home team's bowling attack has been extremely impressive and has combined to take all 20 English wickets in all three Tests so far.
Mitchell Starc has been fast and hostile throughout the first three matches and produced what many called the "ball of the century" to dismiss James Vince during the second innings of the third Test. His 19 wickets have come at an average of 21.05 and have been key to the Aussies getting key breakthroughs.
Starc has dovetailed beautifully with Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, with the two of them having taken 14 and 11 wickets respectively. Hazlewood has been deadly accurate with his line and length while Cummins' pace and bounce has hurried the English batsmen.
Nathan Lyon has proven himself to be a match-winner as well, taking 15 wickets in the series so far, keeping the pressure up from his end.
James Anderson has been the only bright spot for the visitors as their bowling has been disappointing, lacking pace and incision. Anderson has picked up 12 wickets in three matches and will need more support from the likes of Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad if England have to salvage some pride.
England have fared decently in Boxing Day tests on their last few tours, winning twice and losing three times going back to 1998. Their most recent encounter in 2013 was pretty one-sided and saw the Australians win by 8 wickets.
A pitch that always has something for the fast bowlers, the MCG will surely serve up some intriguing cricket in the Boxing Day Test. Mitchell Starc's place in the team could be taken by Jackson Bird, with the southpaw nursing a heel injury.
Joe Root's men would be hoping to take advantage of Starc's absence (if he is forced to miss the match) and give their best to try and reduce their margin of defeat in the 2017/18 Ashes.