Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
Date: Sunday 26 December – Thursday 30 December
England came into this Ashes series with high hopes of taking down Australia and returning back to the Northern Hemisphere with The Ashes in tow. That belief lasted exactly one ball of the first Test at The Gabba as Rory Burns was bowled by a swinging yorker from Mitchell Starc, with the lefty wheeling away in jubilation as English jaws dropped.
England suffered from the same batting issues that have hampered them all year in that first Test. The second innings collapse that saw the visitors bowled out for 297 wasn’t a rush of wickets as the crowd noise swelled, instead it was a slow crumbling as England lost eight wickets for 77 runs over the course of 33 overs. Australia cruised to victory after lunch on Day 4, scoring 20 runs in 25 minutes of the session to send England to their 10th defeat in their last 11 away Ashes Tests. This time the win was by nine wickets.
The second Test looked to be going much the same way as Australia batted confidently to a total of 473/9 declared. Dawid Malan put up a spirited 80 from 157 balls as Starc was again a key, taking 4/37 from 16.1 overs. Australia added 230 to their score before again declaring, leaving England to attempt to bat out the fifth day and claim a draw. A remarkable effort from Joss Buttler – who should have been caught for a duck – defended for his life, surviving 207 balls for 26 runs before – remarkably – standing on his own stumps trying to play a shorter ball.
England has never come back from a 2-0 deficit to win an Ashes series. That series has been played for 139 years, so it will take something special for an England squad low on confidence and facing that type of history to recover from here.
Australia will again be without bowler Josh Hazlewood as he continues his recovery from a side strain. This means that Starc looks likely to again lead the pace attack, even though he was having some back issues in the second Test. There will likely be a return for captain Pat Cummins who missed the second Test as a close contact of someone with Covid, while Scott Boland has been added to the squad as bowler cover just in case. Australia will be looking for more from opener Marcus Harris as the batting specialist has scored just 38 runs across his four innings even as Australia has dominated overall.
The exact makeup of England’s tea for the third Test is still up in the air with as many as four changes reportedly being considered after two dreadful performances. Two players potentially on the chopping block are James Anderson and Stuart Broad, with captain Joe Root having been critical of the length they were bowling with the new ball in Adelaide. Malan – who is assured of his place in the side – has said that England are still in a positive frame of mind, but it will take much more than that to take a win away from the hosts in Melbourne.
Australia should pick up the win here as the better team in better form. Some bets I like include a hundred to be sored in the first innings at 7/10, Pat Cummings to return to the forefront of the action as Australias bet first innings bowler (22/10), and Ben Stokes to step up as England’s best first innings batsman at (9/2). All those prices are with BetXchange.