The Inner Sanctum’s Fourth Ashes Test Preview

The Inner Sanctum's Fourth Ashes Test Preview (Photos: cricket.com.au)

Following a comprehensive innings victory at the MCG in the Boxing Day Test, the Australians have now retained the Ashes with two matches remaining.

They come into Sydney full of confidence looking to keep their dream of a 5-0 series victory alive, whilst the English are looking to bounce back and grab their first win in Australia since Sydney 2011.

Big Picture

The tour went from bad to downright nightmarish for the English in Melbourne, losing by an innings and 14 runs in what was the shortest test at the MCG in terms of balls bowled since 1932.

After bowling the Australians out for 267 the English would have felt as though it was their best chance of the series to get a win on the board.

Unfortunately for them, they would be all out for 68 only an hour and a half into day three, as they were decimated by Australian debutant Scott Boland who ended with figures of 6/7.

They now come to the SCG playing for nothing but pride, as they face an Australian side full of confidence that they can complete their third Ashes clean sweep at home in their last five attempts.

It hasn’t however been all smooth sailing for the Australians, with their leading run-scorer for the series Travis Head being ruled out of the match after testing positive for Covid-19.

Whilst he is the first player from either squad to contract the virus, Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley, English coach Chris Silverwood and many others around both camps have either tested positive or have been close contacts over the last few days.

Key Players

Usman Khawaja

Whilst it hasn’t been confirmed yet that Khawaja will be playing in the SCG Test, all signs appear to point at the Queensland captain filling the gap left by the Covid positive Travis Head.

Whilst he will not be playing in his natural position at first drop in the batting order, Khawaja does have a healthy record playing at the SCG.

Over seven Test innings, he has scored 352 runs at an average of 70.4, including a massive 171 against England on their last Ashes tour.

Head has played a pivotal role for the Australian side in the series so far, leading Australia’s tally for leading runscorer this series meaning Khawaja has big shoes to fill.

Crucial scores of 152 and 51 throughout the summer for Head when matches were at key points have helped to give Australia the edge in those fixtures, with it being vital that Khawaja picks up where Head left off.

Cameron Green

The young West Australian has played a key role in the Australian lineup so far, especially with the ball. Green has picked up seven wickets at just eleven over the first three tests, including the wicket to seal the Ashes.

Unfortunately for Green, his batting has not quite been at the same level, scoring just 52 runs at an average of 17.33. This is compared to his average of 33.7 against India last summer.

The SCG has been a happy hunting ground for the 22-year-old after he scored 84 against India in the third match of that series.

Expect the big West Australian to come out firing with both the ball and bat this test, as he looks to cement his spot in this Australian side for many years to come.

Ben Stokes

For someone of Ben Stokes’ calibre it has been a disappointing Ashes series so far, with the Englishmen averaging 16.8 with the bat and 62.3 with the ball.

Arguably the squads second best player, it is crucial for the success of the English team that he finds some form over the next two games.

Everyone knows that he has the ability to do it, every Australian still has nightmares about his innings at Headingley.

It unfortunately just hasn’t been clicking for him so far, as he has struggled to convert starts into any scores of note.

Stokes will be keen to find form quickly, with the match-winner having the ability to turn the tides of the series almost instantaneously with either the bat or ball.

Jonny Bairstow

After being left out of the eleven for the first two games Bairstow was recalled for the third Test at the MCG. Scores of 35 and five over his two innings were solid yet unremarkable and will certainly need to be improved upon if he wants to keep his spot in the fifth test.

England’s bowlers have struggled to make any sizeable contributions with the bat, especially since Woakes was dropped for the third test.

It is crucial that as the sixth batsmen Bairstow is able to help shield the British tail for as long as possible, something which both himself and Ollie Pope have struggled to do.

If England is any chance of winning either of the remaining two test matches it is vital that he stands up with the bat, scores big, and cements his spot in this team.

More Ashes News

McGrath Foundation calls for Sydney the ‘Pinkest’ Ashes

Ashes: Root sees ‘opportunity’ for England in face of adversity at the SCG

Ashes: Khawaja keen to make a grand Sydney return

Key Match Up

Anderson vs Australia’s top four

After Adelaide where he bowled better than his figures read, Anderson was the shining light in an otherwise disappointing MCG Test for the English. He went on to take 4/33 in what he described as his best bowling performance in Australia since the 2010/11 Ashes series.

What was even more impressive was that he was able to dismiss three of Australia’s top four batters, as well as Pat Cummins at a crucial time when the tail was beginning to seriously wag.  

It was the first time in the series where the Australian line-up looked unstable at a key moment in the Test, and much of that came down to the wickets that Anderson was able to take.

If England is any chance of winning this Test match, they need to restrict Australia’s top four batters.

If Anderson can take these early key wickets as he did in Melbourne, it gives the English a fighting chance in Sydney.

Players to Watch

David Warner

Put simply David Warner loves playing Test cricket at the SCG. With an average of 57.7 which includes three fifties and four centuries, he is a nightmare for whichever team is touring Australia on a given summer.

There are so many memorable moments for Warner in the pink test, with none more famous than his century before Lunch on day one against Pakistan in 2016.

Interestingly enough his average against England on this ground is only 29.3, almost half of what he scores against every other nation. It is almost guaranteed that Warner will want to change this when he strides out to the crease.

He is coming off some serious form this summer, scoring 240 runs so far at an average of exactly 60. He hasn’t however been able to find an elusive hundred, falling in the nineties twice.

Warner is the man to watch this Test for both the English and for fans around the world.

Mark Wood

Wood has had an interesting series so far, performing reasonably well in Brisbane before being rested in Adelaide.

His pace was sorely missed in the day-night test, and he was immediately brought back for Boxing Day. He went on to take two wickets, including dismissing Marnus Labuschagne for just one.

Despite his figures finishing at 2/71 he certainly bowled better than that suggests, with his pace causing problems for the Australians throughout.

With it appearing as though the third seamer spot for Sydney will go to either Robinson or Broad, Wood will again comfortably be the fastest bowler in the English line-up.

With this comes excitement for the fans and an added danger for the Australians. His style is completely different from anything else the English seam attack on tour can produce, and if the home team isn’t careful he could easily rip through their batting line-up.  

Injury Concerns

Australia

Travis Head will definitely be out of the Australian team after testing positive for Covid, with Khawaja his likely replacement.

Josh Hazlewood appears to be ready to play and will be left to his own judgment to make the call. Nathan Lyon said in a recent interview that he believes the big quick is a good chance of suiting up. This will likely leave MCG hero Scott Boland on the sidelines.

Both David Warner and Mitchell Starc also seem to have recovered from any nagging injuries that they have picked up throughout the series.

England

As has been the case for the entire series England has yet again avoided any major injuries coming into this test.

After three consecutive tests, Ollie Robinson may make way for veteran Stuart Broad to add some experience to the England lineup. Rory Burns might also start the year back at the top of the order following failures for Haseeb Hameed at both Adelaide and Melbourne.

Both Joe Root and Ben Stokes seem to have overcome any injuries that they picked up in Brisbane and Adelaide, getting through Melbourne without a hiccup.

It is expected that everyone in their squad will be available for selection at the SCG.

Predicted XI

Australia: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

England: Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed/ Rory Burns, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler (wk), Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach, James Anderson

The Squads

Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner

England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood

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