Aussies seek Ashes sweep to honour veterans

Published: Sunday, December 24, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Melbourne:Australia go into the Ashes fourth Test beginning Tuesday seeking to remain on track for a series whitewash that would be a fitting farewell to retiring bowlers Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

Both Warne, 37, Test cricket's greatest wicket-taker, and McGrath, 36, third in the Test bowling rankings, announced last week that they would retire from Test cricket at the end of the current Ashes series.

With Australia already holding an unassailable 3-0 lead to regain the Ashes, the departure of the two bowlers has given the home side added impetus to complete a clean sweep in the final two Tests.

Warne is poised to become the first bowler to capture 700 Test wickets in the fourth Test, needing just one wicket in his 144th Test before his home town fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Warne, who has tormented England batsmen with 186 wickets in 34 Tests over 13 years, is expected to receive an emotional send-off in Melbourne and Sydney as the Australians vie to emulate Warwick Armstrong team's 5-0 Ashes sweep here 85 years ago.

The showpiece Test of Australian cricket is likely to create a new world record for a single day's attendance with all tickets sold for Boxing Day to surpass the 90,800 for the second day of the fifth Test against the West Indies at the MCG in February 1961.

Warne says the job is half-finished as Ricky Ponting's Aussies eye another humiliation of England.

"As far as I'm concerned we've got two Test matches to play and I just want to finish the series on a high," Warne said.

"I think if we can win 5-0 that would be a fantastic achievement for a great team."

With team departures dominating headlines ahead of the Melbourne Test, coach John Buchanan said he would work on keeping his team focused on beating England.

"With a range of news around us it might be a bit of a distraction but hopefully we are a better team than that," Buchanan said Friday.

"That's something we will talk about at training dealing with the distractions that will continue over the next two Test matches, and really try to finish on a high note.

"Our mission here is not only to win the Ashes but also establish a huge gap between us and England."

Australia took just 15 days to seize the urn off England, rebounding spectacularly from last year's series loss in England where it relinquished the Ashes after 16 years' ownership.

The much-anticipated series has been a huge let-down with Australia romping to massive wins over Freddie Flintoff's England team in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

Australia has only been dismissed twice in six innings highlighting England's inability to take 20 wickets after terminating the Australians' innings eight times in the 2005 series.

The sorry England performance has triggered recriminations with coach Duncan Fletcher under intense scrutiny over the team's preparation and selections amid conjecture that his job will be under review.

One casualty is likely to be wicketkeeper Geraint Jones, who registered a pair of ducks in Perth and has scored only 63 runs at 10.50 in the series. Chris Read is expected to be behind the stumps in the fourth Test.

Skipper Flintoff is determined his side will bounce back in the Melbourne and Sydney Tests.

"It hurts a lot, but we have to get over it (losing Ashes) and we've got two big Test matches still to play," he said.

"There are a lot of lads who want to prove they can win a Test match in Australia and prove they can play against Australia."

The Ashes series may be over as a contest but that hasn't dampened an insatiable appetite by cricket fans with officials anticipating a record attendance for an entire Test.

With attendances of 95,000 likely over the opening three days' play the record of 350,354 -- set in the vast arena in the third Test of the 1936/37 Ashes series in the Don Bradman era -- is under threat.

England, sensing a changing of the guard with Warne and McGrath going, is looking to regroup for future Ashes battles.

"We've got another two years before we play these guys and it's kind of starting now," batsman Paul Collingwood said.

"I'm sure the boys in the dressing room will want to put their hands up and see where they've gone wrong individually, and regroup and restart, starting in Melbourne."


Australia (from) - Ricky Ponting (captain), Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath, Mitchell Johnson.

England (from) - Andrew Flintoff (captain), Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen, Geraint Jones, Chris Read, Matthew Hoggard, Sajid Mahmood, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar.

Umpires - Aleem Dar (PAK), Rudi Koertzen (RSA)

Match Referee - Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)


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