The Ashes are lost, and after Day 1 in Melbourne, it’s hard to argue that pride is even on the line in Sydney. The revival on the bouncy Perth wicket was short-lived, as the English bowlers tore through the entire Australian order like it was made of tissue paper. Such is the fate of Australia if Hussey, Watson and Haddin fail this summer – grim tidings indeed. Now, the vultures are circling, and foes of the past are taking the opportunity to sink the slipper. Paging Ian Chappell to the car park to deal with Botham, please.
Two changes to the squad have been made by the under fire selectors. Ponting has succumbed to his thumb injury that arguably should have kept him out of the Melbourne game in the first place – this sees Usman Khawaja come into the squad and is very likely to make his Test debut. The other change was forced by Chris Harris’ stress fracture of the ankle, with Doug Bollinger taking his place. Apart from the usual accusations of NSW bias despite not having a representative in the selection panel for 15 years, there’s nothing controversial about either of these moves. Anointed heir apparent to Ponting’s underachieving throne, Michael Clarke, finds himself with the reins in a one Test audition for the captaincy. He can expect savage criticism of his every misstep, not the least because his current poor form calls his very place in the side into question.
The SCG pitch has favoured the batsmen and spinners traditionally. With the changes to the squad, we can expect to see Michael Beer finally make his debut in the baggy green and the tweakers’ treadmill. Steve Smith retains his place as a batting all-rounder, although Brad Haddin’s strong form may force him down the order to seven. With Siddle and Johnson as the last bowlers to grab a bag, Hilfenhaus and Bollinger will be competing for the final bowling spot. Hilfy has lacked penetration all series whilst bowling relatively well, and there is some current thinking that he may lack the variety to strike regularly at Test level. Bollinger has had a chance to regain a bit of fitness, and may edge Hilfenhaus out of the final spot on his home turf.
If the Poms can tear themselves away from their long-awaited celebrations, they’ll likely keep the same team that secured the Ashes in Melbourne. The only possible change would be to move Collingwood down to bat at six, and bring Ian Bell up the order. However if they didn’t do it for Melbourne, they probably won’t for Sydney either. Jimmy Anderson remains their best bowler, but this is a pitch where Graeme Swann should get a chance to shine, particularly in the 2nd innings. Chris Tremlett’s seam offerings may also shine on the first morning if England can bowl first.
The weather in Sydney has taken a turn for the sunny at the end of the year, but the seven day forecast has late showers on Day 1, and possible showers every day after that. It seems like most other Sydneysiders, the meteorologists have thrown up their hands in despair at guessing what the weather will do. A lot of times the SCG pitch can heavily favour the batsmen, and whilst the conditions may have generated a little extra juice in the deck for the first morning, ultimately we can expect big scores in the middle of the match from batsmen prepared to apply themselves. Hussey once again looks the man most likely for Australia. Phil Hughes really needs to show something in this match, but his odds are too short to warrant investing on his dubious form. A host of players are in form for England – there’s a bit of fluctuation in odds for Alastair Cook, $5.00 is available currently at Luxbet and that could be a worthy investment if you’re keen on English batting markets.
The Long Handle’s plays for the 5th Test:
Draw @ 2.85 (IASBet, Sportsbet)
Chris Tremlett most wickets 1st Innings England @ 3.50 (Centrebet)
Michael Hussey Australia most runs 1st innings @ 5.00 (Luxbet, Sportingbet)