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Justin Langer's column

Fourth Ashes Test: Australia v England
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground Dates: 26-30 December Start time: 2330 GMT (25-29 December)
Coverage: Live on Test Match Special on BBC Radio 4 LW, 5 live sports extra and online; TMS highlights online (UK only) and day's review on the TMS podcast; text commentary on BBC Sport website & mobiles; live on Sky Sports 1

Melbourne Cricket Ground
Around 90,000 fans are expected to attend the MCG each day

By Justin Langer
Australia batting/leadership coach

Cricket could not have written a better script.

One-all after three Ashes Test matches, a Boxing Day Test in front of 90,000 passionate Australians and Englishmen, and so much to play for that the tension is almost too much to wait four days for.

Most interesting is that the two decided Test matches were comprehensive on both sides. England dominated in Adelaide, while Australia won the third Test in Perth by 267 runs.

Had the results have been closer, like they were in 2005, we might have concluded that the teams were very evenly matched. As it is with such a gulf in the outcomes, we are left scratching our heads as to who really does hold the advantage in this series.

Both teams struggled, more or less, with the extra bounce in Perth. This is not unusual. Many visiting teams, and that includes various Australian teams, with less experience at the ground, have found the extra bounce to be a variable that has been hard to adapt to.

While Australia will be tempted to hand left-arm spinner Michael Beer his first baggy green cap, they will want to find good reason to break up the quartet of fast bowlers who worked so well together in Perth

Truth is, at its best, nowhere in the world bounces like the Waca so batsmen find the physical and mental adaption to be a tricky one.

The MCG will not host such hostility. No doubt a lot will be made of the pitch, in fact the banter has already started, but there is no way it will bounce like the Waca.

Even if it is well grassed, it might seam a little, even swing a bit, but it won't bounce like Perth. Maybe this will be a relief for both teams; time will tell.

Just over a week ago Australia was being picked apart because they had been badly beaten up by their oldest foe.

Some of the criticism was pretty harsh. When I read from a former England captain that the symbol of the baggy green was a load of nonsense (he used stronger words than that) I nearly fell over.

Telling young Australian boys that the baggy green cap is rubbish is like telling my kids there is no Father Christmas, Christians there is no God, or Monarchists that the symbol of the Crown Jewels is over-rated.

Melbourne Cricket Ground
Around 90,000 fans are expected to attend the MCG each day

My view is that is OK to have faith or belief in symbols, mystical or not. Faith and hope are two of the great drivers in life; so ridiculing them is pretty rich, even cynical, in my view.

Now it is England's turn to cop the wrath of the press. Sadly it is just the way of the world when you don't win every time.

Firstly it was the loss of Stuart Broad and then the poor physical preparation of James Anderson.

Now, it is the arrival of the WAGs on tour, the form of England's spiritual leader in Paul Collingwood and the absence of the specialist coaches who have returned to England.

While these factors may be talking points, they will count for little on Boxing Day morning.

Walking onto the hallowed turf of the MCG is an extraordinary experience.

After the National Anthems, where the crowd roars at their conclusions, the players will go back into the changing rooms for their final preparations before returning to the field.

At that point, the crowd will reignite, and the noise has a way of carrying all 13 players out into the middle.

Boxing Day was always my favourite day on the calendar because of that experience. The noise, the expectation, the knowing that you are living the dream of playing in a Boxing Day Test, after all of those years of watching it on your television screen as a youngster.

For an Australian, Boxing Day really is an iconic day because of the Test match and this year is as big as it gets.

And, because it is so big, I am certain Ricky Ponting will play.

He is as tough as they come, and regardless of his fractured finger he wouldn't miss the occasion for anything.

606: DEBATE
TootingExcess

How both sets of selectors go with their teams will be interesting to watch.

While Australia will be tempted to hand left-arm spinner Michael Beer his first baggy green cap, they will want to find good reason to break up the quartet of fast bowlers who worked so well together in Perth.

Although the Waca suited such a combination, they will be aware that there are more ways to win Test matches than sticking to traditional formulas.

Australia succeeded with a different combination last week, the West Indies did it for years as the greatest team that ever played together.

England on the other hand will discuss the endurance of Steve Finn, who has been very good, and the form of Collingwood.

Like all selections there are never cut and dried answers to tough calls, so England's selectors will be thinking long and hard about their best combination to retain the Ashes.

Either way and everything considered the Ashes is alive and well.

Brilliant isn't it?

From Melbourne,

JL



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see also
England dominate woeful Aussies
26 Dec 10 |  England
Cook backs under-fire Collingwood
21 Dec 10 |  England
Ponting fit to play in Melbourne
25 Dec 10 |  Australia
Flower hints Finn may be rested
20 Dec 10 |  England
Wednesday's Ashes gossip column
22 Dec 10 |  Cricket
Justin Langer's key moments
19 Dec 10 |  Cricket
Justin Langer's column
13 Dec 10 |  Cricket
England in Australia 2010-11
08 Oct 09 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket


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