On Dec 26, 2010, a possible crowd of 90,000 will be congregating at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for what promises to be a true spectacle. The fate of the Ashes hangs in the balance with two equally-matched sides going at each other. Both teams even possess wounded soldiers in the ranks, with England hoping its star bowler James Anderson, will pull himself together after having suffered a side strain and the Aussie captain Ricky Ponting, determined to play with his broken finger.
After Australia's robust performance in the last game where their bowlers effected a resurgence to skittle out the tourists in both innings, the momentum might have just swung their way. But will the pendulum sway towards England this time around? After all, the highest-wicket taker in the series thus far (Steven Finn, with 14 scalps) and the batsmen with the highest average Alistair Cook (123.27) both belong to the visiting side. They have the resources to pull off another win and grab the urn.
However, Australia is more than well-equipped to beat them to it. After all, middle-order batsman Michael Hussey, has aggregated the highest amount of runs at 517. And though Ryan Harris is only the third highest wicket taker in the series so far, he bears the more impressive average among the top five bowlers, at 17.27, while Mitchell Johnson has conceded just 28.00 to the wicket. If these two put the ball in the right places and get it to swing and bounce as they did at the WACA, they would very well rip through the English line-up again. An additional factor counting in the hosts' favour is that they have won 10 out of 11 of their matches at the MCG.
Michael Hussey evidently stands as the key man for Australia. From beginning the series under pressure to perform, he has graduated to becoming the only really reliable batsman in the side as Australia has struggled to post big totals. Hussey has accomplished a mighty feat in rejuvenating his Test career in the space of three matches, and if his current form is anything to go, the England attack will have to stay on their toes. After all, he has reached his highest score and strung together six 50-plus Ashes scores.
For England, the man to watch out for is undeniably Ian Bell. The middle order bat has been in form, but hasn't quite had the opportunity to prove his worth because the lion's share of the batting has been consumed by those higher up in the order. So far in the series, he has notched up an average of 71 and a highest of 76. Bell says he is determined to score a century, so maybe Melbourne will mark his time to achieve such.
The pitch is expected to play slow and low, with large totals very likely. The seamers may not quite get the responsiveness that they did at the Waca and the batsmen might find it easier to play themselves in. The strip may just offer something for the spinners, in which case Australia could consider bringing off-spinner Michael Beer on board at the expense of Peter Siddle. English off-break Graeme Swann, too might have a large role to play.
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 Ryan Harris, 10 Michael Beer, 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 Tim Bresnan, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Chris Tremlett, 11 James Anderson