It is looking increasingly possible that all five matches of this Ashes series will not be completed. But for now, the Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground is going ahead as England seek to regain some credibility and Australia look to heap further pain on their oldest rivals. As always, we here at Last Word on Cricket will be offering our preview and prediction ahead of the Ashes Fourth Test. But who will come out on top in New South Wales?
The Ashes Fourth Test Preview and Prediction
The Series So Far
There were few reasons for England to be particularly confident coming into this Ashes series. After all, they had lost to New Zealand at home and looked to be on course to lose to India as well before a covid-scare in the tourists camp brought that series to an early end before the fifth test with England trailing 1-2. But even so few could, or indeed did, predict quite how badly England would falter in a series they had nominally been preparing for since the last Ashes series ended at the Oval in 2019.
They were well-beaten at the Gabba, with the decision to leave Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad out on a green seaming track backfiring as Australia racked up over 400 either side of two England collapses. Things did not improve much for the tourists in Adelaide, despite Anderson and Broad returning. Australia again scored over 400 as England carried relatively little threat with the pink ball. Australia, without their own premier quicks in Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, had no such problems.
In the first innings, David Warner and Steve Smith both scored 90s whilst Marnus Labuschagne crossed 100 for the first time in the Ashes as Australia wracked up 473. They ended up batting twice, but needn’t have bothered as England were rolled for a miserable 236 in the first dig and an even worse 192 in the second, despite a lengthy vigil from Jos Buttler that extended the game longer into the fifth day than had looked likely.
One suspects that England would have liked some of that fight in Melbourne where they suffered the indignity of losing by an innings and 14 runs despite Australia scoring just 267 themselves. It was Scott Boland’s match as he ran through England in the second innings, taking 6/7 to the evident delight of his home crowd as the tourists crumbled to 68 all out. That saw Australia take an unassailable lead heading into the Ashes Fourth Test.
Australia may have a few selection headaches, but of the good kind. The batting line-up currently picks itself at this point. Marcus Harris had been a point of contention, but his hard-earned 77 in Australia’s only innings at the MCG has silenced the doubters for the remainder of this series at least. Warner will partner him at the top, with Labuschagne and Smith in next. Usman Khawaja looks likely to replace Travis Head, who misses out after testing positive for covid. All-rounder Cameron Green and Alex Carey, both of whom have been a little short of runs, will come in at six and seven.
Cummins, the captain, at eight and Mitchell Starc at nine are guaranteed picks. Both have had very fine series so far and contributed with both bat and ball at the MCG. Boland can feel very hard done by if he misses out after his MCG heroics, but it would be no surprise to see Hazlewood replace him if fit, or indeed Jhye Richardson for that matter. Nathan Lyon will be the first-choice spinner, but Mitchell Swepson may have an outside chance of playing with more than one tour of the subcontinent in Australia’s future.
England would doubtless love to be faced with some of Australia’s selection dilemmas. Changes were made to the batting in Melbourne, but to little effect. In truth, it looked like a mistake to replace Rory Burns with Zak Crawley and it would not be a major surprise to see the Surrey captain return to the side, with Haseeb Hameed potentially the man to miss out this time around. Three and four are secure in Dawid Malan (though he had a test to forget at the MCG) and captain Joe Root.
Ben Stokes will be hoping to get his series underway in earnest, whilst Johnny Bairstow will likely keep his place after he replaced the struggling Ollie Pope and it is hard to see Jos Buttler losing the gloves at this point despite poor returns with the bat. Stuart Broad may well return to the team, whilst Anderson, who alone emerged from the debris at the MCG with real credit, should also keep his place. Mark Wood’s pace offers England a point of difference, but Ollie Robinson has looked increasingly weary. Jack Leach may well play as England’s only real spin option though it has been a series to forget for him.
Perhaps England can draw some inspiration from Bangladesh’s superb effort just across the Tasman, where they have scored over 400 first innings runs against New Zealand in a match that, according to this writer at least, they had little chance in. But where the New Zealand quicks have looked slightly worse for wear, the Australian attack have been relentless in their excellence so far during the Ashes. That should not be overlooked, for all of England’s batting woes.
The depth of resources they have, particularly with Green chipping in and a spinner back to his best in Lyon, has been too much for England to cope with. It would be too much for several better teams to cope with. The pitch in Sydney should be easier to bat on at least, but Australia have the edge in that department too with Warner, Labuschagne and Smith providing the Australian batting line-up a solid spine that Root’s lone hand cannot realistically hope to match. Expect Australia to end this match a step closer to wrapping up a whitewash.
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