It seems like it has been an age since Australia secured the return of the Ashes in the Perth and much has happened in the intervening period, not the least the retirement of Graeme Swann. From the outside looking in this fixture may seem like a dead rubber but for the Australian public this test presents another opportunity to demolish an English side seemingly close to breaking point.
Here are my 5 key questions the answers of which will, in my view, determine the ultimate outcome of the game:
1. How bad is the hangover?
The Australians celebrated their victory in Perth long and hard, as they were entirely entitled to do. It is completely understandable that they might be a little flat for this encounter given that the principle job they had for the series is done. One suspects the Darren Lehmann is too savvy a man manager to have let the Australians to have taken their collective eyes off the ball too much but still he will have a big job getting his team mentally up for this game.
2. Playing for careers, will England’s old guard fire?
The fact it is has been the senior players for England that have let them down in this series and one suspects that another failure in Melbourne could see the end of the careers of the likes of Pietersen, Anderson and maybe even Cook. All three are quality players and have too much class to have an extended long run of bad form. The question though will be whether mentally they have much more fight left them.
3. How is Broad’s foot?
In the midst of another woeful performance by the English is stood out, particularly when Shane Watson was going crazy on the fourth morning at Perth just how much they missed Stuart Broad. He has been the best bowler of tour for the English and, more to the point, he is a personality that has the ability to lift his team around him. If he is not 100% fit then that will be a body blow for the English chances.
4. Can Monty succeed where Graeme failed?
Shane Watson’s demolition of Graeme Swann has been one of the principal moments in the series where Australia’s dominance has been most overtly on display. The Australians have been overt about their intention to attack Panesar with vigour and how he reacts to such an assault will play a large factor in the course of this game. England relied on Swann for long spells of run less overs and Monty will need to replicate that in Melbourne.
5. Will the Johnson bubble burst?
Mitchell Johnson has been nothing short of excellent this test series. The plan from Australia has been to bowl short and intimidate the English batsmen and Johnson has been the perfect protagonist in the execution of that play. I commented during the Perth test match that I was wondering whether England had become aware, finally, of the plan and had found a way to combat same. We have not seen a plan B from Johnson which he may need on an MCG wicket that has been less than receptive to short bowling of late.
The Boxing Day test match is a special event on the Australian sporting calendar. I prefer the Gabba test for obvious reasons however all eyes in Australia will be drawn to TV sets around the country for the first ball which gets away at 10am today.