Going into the third Ashes Test at Perth, England undoubtedly hold the edge over a beleaguered Australia. While the hosts are desperate for a win, they would perhaps settle for a draw by way of stemming the rot that has set into their chances this series.
England are just one win away from retaining the Ashes and taking home their fist series Down Under in over 20 years. So the visitors will be going all out for victory when they take guard at the WACA on Thursday, Dec 16. In the Ashes 133-year history, England has never wrapped up the Ashes before Christmas, so it's high time, the tourists defy history.
The contest between the two sides has been so intense in the last ten days, that it has already thrown up a couple of casualties. England fast bowler Stuart Broad, has to depart prematurely for England owing to an abdomen strain that he picked up at Adelaide and Australia's opener Simon Katich has been ruled out of the rest of the series due to a Achilles tendon injury.
Perhaps a tell-tale sign that the Australian selectors are sweating is that they have made whole-sale changes to the side. Young blood in 21-year-old leg-spinning allrounder Steven Smith, 22-year-old opener Philip Hughes and 26-year-old off-spinner Michael Beer, has been thrown into the mix. It seems the selection committee is relying more on potential than experience to pull Australia out of its present rut.
Among the key-men for Australia in the upcoming encounter is Mitchell Johnson. The fast bowler has been in a career-threatening slump with the ball in recent times and was dropped for the Adelaide Test after a barren spell in Brisbane. But he has a robust history at the WACA to bank on. It was here that he took 21 wickets in three Tests, including a career-best haul of 11 for 159. He has been training hard in the last week and Australia will be hoping he can reaatin the deadly avatar of his past. Meanwhile, one will have to see whether his fellow-pacers Ben Hilfenhaus or Peter Siddle make the final cut.
For England, offspinner Graeme Swann and pace men Steven Finn and James Anderson are on a roll. Together, they have taken 26 wickets with Anderson and Swann proving especially effective in the last game at Adelaide. Anderson who has only recently returned from a quick trip to Lancashire to spend time with his wife and new-born, will have to counter jet lag as he leads the pace attack at Perth. Also, it is still a toss up between Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan for the four seamer's spot.
The pitch has earned a reputation of favouring the bowlers over the batsmen, although it hasn't quite lived up to expectations in the recent past. It will start the match with a sheen of green which should aid pace, but as the cracks in the wicket get bigger through the encounter, batsmen will have to stay on their toes.
Australia (probable) 1 Shane Watson, 2 Phillip Hughes, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Steven Smith, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Michael Beer, 10 Ryan Harris, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Graeme Swann, 9 James Anderson, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 Steven Finn.