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By Adrian Meredith
Australia may be leading 4-0 in the ongoing Ashes series, but if one takes the English leg of the Ashes, the home team leads 4-3. If England win the final Test, at Sydney starting on January 3, 2014, it would mean 4-4 overall. Importantly, it would mean that England had won a Test in Australia, which Australia failed to do in England earlier in the year. A draw or a win to Australia, though, would give the combined series to Australia.
The other issue is the toss. So far in the combined series, every time that the home team has won the toss (seven times), they have won the game, while every time that the away team has won the toss (two times), it has been a draw. England have yet to win the toss in ongoing Ashes in Australia. This may be a coincidence, but it’d still be nice to see England win the toss and Australia win, just to prove it wrong.
Last time the teams met at Sydney
In 2010-11, England won the series 3-1, winning all three games by an innings — Sydney being one of the venues were England won by an innings. It was the fifth match of the series and it was 2-1 at that stage, with Australia needing a win to draw the series. After posting 280, they had England a 226 for five in return, only to see centuries to Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Matt Prior get them to 644, with Cook’s 189 the highest. Mitchell Johnson was Australia’s best player, with four wickets and a 50 in the first innings. Perhaps the most demoralising element of it all was when Prior reached a century batting at No 7 when England already had the game won and England refused to declare.
Last 5 Ashes Tests at Sydney:
2010-11 – England 644 beat Australia 280 & 281 by an innings and 83 runs.
2006-07 – Australia 393 & 46-0 beat England 291 & 147 by 10 wickets.
2002-03 – England 362 & 452 beat Australia 363 & 226 by 225 runs.
1998-99 – Australia 322 & 184 beat England 220 & 188 by 98 runs.
1994-95 – England 309 & 255-2 declared drew with Australia 116 & 344-7.
In the last 5 Ashes Tests at Sydney, the score is 2-2 with 1 draw, and in that one draw England should have won, but for a mistimed declaration and a big fightback by Australia, who started with a double century opening stand before they all collapsed. They barely got away with it.
Of note, three of the four victories were while batting first — the exception was in 2010-11. The draw that almost led to a win was when England batted first too.
Sydney is a pitch that you want to bat first on. It deteriorates badly, as you can see with the scores there.
Last 5 non-Ashes Tests here:
2012/13 – Australia 432 & 141-5 beat Sri Lanka 294 & 278 by 5 wickets.
2011/12 – Australia 659-4 declared beat India 191 & 400 by an innings and 68 runs.
2009/10 – Australia 127 & 381 beat Pakistan 333 & 139 by 36 runs.
2008/09 – Australia 445 & 257-4 declared beat South Africa 327 & 272 by 103 runs.
2007/08 – Australia 463 & 401-7 declared beat India 532 & 210 by 122 runs.
Australia have won in Sydney against everyone, batting first or last, except for England. Two of those matches – in 2007-08 against India and 2009-10 against Pakistan, were controversial. Indian cricket fans feel to this day that the umpires conspired to rob India of a deserved victory in 2007-08, including when it was heading for a draw towards the end of the match. In 2009-10, Pakistan cricket fans (and others) claim that Pakistan threw the match, especially noting Kamran Akmal’s extremely bad wicket-keeping.
Of note, three of the five victories were while batting first, but Australia’s 2011-12 victory by an innings was while batting last, as was their 2012-13 victory. Indeed, including the last Ashes test in 2010/11, which was won by England, the last three Tests have been won by the team batting last.
In 2012-13, Australia went in with four pace bowlers and a spinner — playing just five batsmen. The last time a team went in with two spinners in Sydney was India in 2007-08, back in 1998-99, though, Australia went in with two spinners (Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill) as well as the half spin/half pace bowler Colin Miller — 2 1/2 spinners out of 4! Also, in 1994-95, Australia went in with two spinners (Warne and Tim May).
Most teams, though, have gone in with three pacers and one spinner. In spite of the reputation for spin to take a lot of wickets, they don’t necessarily take a lot — though they tend to be better towards the end of the match than at the start.
Ryan Harris is expected to be rested while Shane Watson looks unlikely to be able to bowl. With how good Watson’s bowling has been this tour, there is a rumour that he will not play if he cannot bowl. In theory, Nathan Coulter-Nile should replace Harris (Bollinger has been released from the squad) while James Faulkner should replace Watson; but the rumour is that with Watson out they may also use a specialist batsman, Alex Doolan to come in with the extra batting strength.
This in turn will likely cause the weakest batsman, George Bailey, to be dropped. Whether all 3 changes are made is another question entirely. Of note, if they play, Doolan and Coulter-Nile would be making their test debuts. While Coulter-Nile has played ODIs before, this would be Doolan’s international debut. James Faulkner would be playing just his 2nd Test match, though he has played a lot of ODIs and T20s in the past year.
The line-up should be: David Warner, Chris Rogers, Alex Doolan, Michael Clarke, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon
With Monty Panesar having a particularly awful Test in Melbourne, he looks certain to be dumped, with Scott Borthwick likely to replace him. There is talk that Tim Bresnan is also surplus to requirements and on a spinner’s pitch James Tredwell could come in to replace him.
The likely line-up: Michael Carberry, Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, James Tredwell, Scott Borthwick and James Anderson
Pitch and conditions:
While Sydney is known for its low scores, first innings scores tend to be around the 400 mark; fourth innings scores are often under 200. A par score, therefore, is probably about 300-350, a good 100 runs higher than the par score in Melbourne. If batting last, you want to win by an innings, and want to get the team batting first out for under 300.
In spite of the high first innings scores, the pitch tends to crack up very badly towards the end and is hard to bat on for Days Four and Five, leading to most matches ending in results. Some don’t even last until Day Five though.
David Warner is still in supreme form, and has just been named in the Australian One-day International (ODI) team, returning to the squad that he was left out of in India. He had a great first 3 Tests but missed out in Melbourne and on his home ground is going to want to do well. He hasn’t done much in his only two previous Tests here, not even managing a 50, and will want to address that record.
Mitchell Johnson again will be the one to watch. He has a good recent record here but is yet to do anything spectacular. But with three man of the match awards in four Tests, he is in the form of his life, and is probably right now competing with South African Dale Steyn for the title of best bowler in the world right now. With Australia heading to South Africa in February, Johnson will want to keep his form going. He is a form player and when he is hot he is very hot. And right now he is boiling. I’d almost put money on him getting another man of the match award here.
Alastair Cook scored 189 here in 2010-11 and showed some good form towards the end of the Melbourne Test, finally coming good after an ordinary series. He will remember this ground fondly from 2010-11 and will want to come good here too. He will know that his captaincy is under pressure yet a 1-4 result would do him some good.
James Anderson finally came good at the end of the Melbourne Test, after an ordinary series, but had a good 2010-11 Test here and will want to show that he is a better bowler than he has looked so far this series.
Batting first is a must here but teams can win batting last — usually by an innings. Par score is around 300-350 batting first but you want a 100+ lead if you are batting last — much bigger than you would on most grounds. Average score batting first is around 400, but if you can get that then you will almost certainly win.
Whoever bats first should win, as they usually do here, and, with Australia winning the last four tosses in a row, surely England will win the toss and bat.
But, in spite of this being one of England’s best Australian grounds, I just can’t see them winning here, not now.
It will probably be pretty close but I think that Australia will win, but not by much. Perhaps by five wickets, assuming they bat last.
(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)
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