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Australia's rise from Ashes to draw big crowd

Last updated on: December 25, 2010 17:17 IST

Great carnivals in sports-mad Australia



Australia's phoenix-like rise from Ashes oblivion at Perth teased a grateful nation with the smell of English blood and will draw a big crowd to Melbourne's sporting coliseum when the fourth Test starts on Sunday.

- Ashes coverage

At a time when Test cricket attendances are on the wane across the globe, officials have spoken of attracting a potential record crowd to cram the cauldron-like Melbourne Cricket Ground for the opening day.

Melbourne's Boxing Day Test remains one of the great carnivals in sports-mad Australia and the hosts' emphatic 267-run win at Perth has given the contest additional spice, leaving the five-Test series hanging in the balance at 1-1.

Image: Australian team celebrate after winning the third Ashes Test


Inspirational Johnson

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The hosts, sparked by a swing-bowling master class from the enigmatic Mitchell Johnson that set up victory at the WACA, now claim the momentum and the lion's share of confidence.

"I think the self-belief has been there from the first Test to be honest," Australia vice captain Michael Clarke said on Friday.

"I don't think the belief has changed. We've always been confident that if we're at our best, we can beat any team in the world especially in these home conditions," he added.

Bravado aside, Australia face the stiffer challenge of the two sides, needing at least a victory and a draw in the last two Tests to wrest back the Ashes.

England, who won 2-1 in the home series last year, need only draw level after the final Test in Sydney to become the first side in 24 years to bring home the Ashes.

Australia have won four of their past five matches against the tourists at the MCG, including an innings and 99-run thrashing four years ago.

With the Ashes already sewn up, some 89,000 people at the MCG witnessed legspinner Shane Warne take his 700th wicket on day one of the 2006 Test to help the hosts dismiss England cheaply on the way to victory.

Image: Mitchell Johnson

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Create chances

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Four years on, Australia's failure to unearth a quality spinner to replace the retired Warne could prove damning on a pitch that traditionally offers turn on the first day and again later in the match as it wears.

The curator's choice of a grassier drop-in pitch sparked allegations of skulduggery by British media, who smelt a plot to favour Australia's seamers, but if anything, the track is likely to be tailor-made for England's Graeme Swann.

"Graeme over the last 18 months, two years has been a revelation for us and bowled really, really well," England top-order batsman Jonathan Trott said of the 31-year-old.

"Whenever he's got the ball in his hand pretty much all the time something's gonna happen and create chances for us," he added.

Australia have far less certainty about their own spinner, Michael Beer, who was picked in a 12-man squad for Perth and left to carry the drinks as selectors opted for a four-pronged pace attack.

The uncapped Beer has been named in the 12 again for Melbourne but has just a handful of first-class matches under his belt and an average of around 40.

Handing the 26-year-old his debut in front of a massive crowd and an English batting lineup keen to make amends for their failures in both innings at Perth would appear fraught with danger.

Image: Graeme Swann

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Finn may be rested at Melbourne

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The alternative appears no less a gamble, however, risking the possibility of Australia's four quicks being forced to toil without support on a lifeless pitch offering little swing for paceman Johnson.

England's seamers, for their part, appeared to let the fatigue of a long tour creep into their bowling towards the end of the Perth Test.

Chris Tremlett, the pick of England's bowlers, complained of being "tired" after his first test match in more than three years, while 21-year-old paceman Steve Finn was plundered for runs.

Although the series' highest wicket-taker with 14, Finn may be rested at Melbourne, opening the door for backup paceman Tim Bresnan.

Both sides are likely to delay naming their sides until the morning of the Test.

Image: Tim Bresnan

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'It's going to be really hard to leave Punter out'


Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who celebrated his 36th birthday as his team completed victory over England in Perth, will hope to celebrate Christmas on Saturday with a favourable report from his team doctor.

Ponting broke the little finger on his left hand during a catching attempt in the third Test, but appeared untroubled by it when batting in the nets on Friday.

"Obviously we're all very hopeful and pretty confident," Clarke said of his captain's chances of selection.

"Unless they cut his finger off, it's going to be really hard to leave Punter (Ponting) out," he added.

Image: Ricky Ponting

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