Melbourne Preview

My flight took off from London’s Heathrow airport twelve hours later than scheduled from a snowbound Britain crippled by freezing weather.

I was one of the lucky ones. I understand only now are flight schedules returning to normal, the cold weather front having moved on from the UK and deciding to blow its load all over France.

I hate flying – it terrifies the hell out of me, irrational though that fear is – but I have never been happier to set foot on a plane. Thank you god for Qantas, diazepam, and a window in the fucked up UK weather.

I am here, I have no clue what day it is – I have informed it is Christmas Day but the weather is muggy and there is no snow so that is obviously bullshit – but all that is important is that tomorrow is the first day of a Test which could make history, not just in terms of attendance figures (95,000 is the figure being bandied about for Sunday) but if England win it will be their first Ashes series victory in Australia since Gatting’s men carried off the spoils back in ’86-‘87.

There was much talk in the aftermath of England’s dismantling at the hands of the opposition in Perth about a doctored MCG pitch, and while it had a slight green tinge to it when I took a gander at it – albeit from a distance – on Friday, going on how wickets here have played in Shield matches recently it’ll do a bit early on and then flatten out considerably. Whoever bats first will have to pull up the drawbridge for the first session or so, but batting should get easier the longer the match continues.

I watched Jimmy Anderson in the nets yesterday and he looked fine, with no niggles or soreness. Finn was also given a decent workout, and while Andrew Strauss has said he will wait till Sunday morning to decide, with indications that Bresnan could play, opinion seems to going towards the way of England playing a side unchanged from Perth.

This could be risky; Finn took wickets in Perth but went for a shitload of runs, and dropping Collingwood and playing a fifth specialist bowler would take some of the pressure off a young man who seemed to be struggling under the workload.

Ricky Ponting has given assurances he will play, but will be directing operations from mid off or mid on, rather than his customary position of second slip. He can also expect to receive a barrage of short stuff targeting that broken left little finger, but he is long overdue for a big score and his record at the MCG of 1186 runs at 62.42 in 13 matches means that time is now if his chances of retaining the captaincy are not to disappear down the crapper entirely.

Australia will have their own gamble with their all-pace bowling attack should they decide to continue on this course, as seems likely. The last time Australia beat England in a Test at the MCG with four seamers was 52 years ago, and they cannot call on the likes of Lindwall, Davidson, Meckiff and Rorke now.

An England team coming off the back of a defeat; Australia with momentum from a comprehensive victory but with an injured captain and still with no apparent plan as to how or when to utilize a spinner, or indeed who that spinner should be in the long term. Make no mistake; this match will be a cracker.

I am expecting less chat, less susceptibility to petty distractions from England this match. I am also hoping to see more application, at least from the batsmen. England took their foot off the gas and their eyes off the road in Perth with disastrous consequences.

If they do so again it will make their task of ending that 23 year wait for an Ashes series victory Down Under that much harder.

KP in the Nets

KP in the nets

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