As has been the case in three of the last four Ashes tours, England have lost the Ashes before they even reach Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test match.
It takes some of the excitement away from the occasion when the packed, 100,000-seater MCG is going to host a dead rubber. Sure, the atmosphere will be fantastic for the hosts, but there are probably a few England supporters wondering quite what they will be doing there when Mitchell Starc is charging in at England’s batsmen again.
England’s batsman might feel the same. Even when they did the almost unthinkable of posting over 400 without meaningful contributions from Joe Root or Alastair Cook, they lost the Test by an innings. A lower order collapse was inevitable, but the bowling performance was dire. Blame it on county cricket, the ECB or them not selecting your favourite player all you like; England’s best players have not been good enough.
None of this bodes well for Melbourne. From Ben Stokes’ arrest to the fragility shown at Brisbane, the signs of a meltdown have been there for this tour. Flashes of hope have made the defeat all the more painful as an England supporter. Australia are now as short as 23/20 to notch a third whitewash of the century. It still looks a good price.
Steve Smith was flawless in Perth, as he was in Brisbane. Basically, without the assistance of twilight and a pink ball, England cannot dismiss the Australian captain. He is posting Bradman-like numbers. His technique makes him a chore to watch, but his results are frankly astonishing. England still have no plan to get him out. He’s at 7/2 to top score in the first innings.
Away from Smith, a longshot on Dawid Malan to replicate his Third Test heroics at 13/1 could be worthwhile. The Middlesex man has looked more comfortable than any other England player with the Australia’s chin music on loop, and is one of the few set to leave this tour with an enhanced reputation.
Jonny Bairstow has been solid for England, too. He is at 2/1 to score a first innings half-century. The move to six helped England’s first innings cause at the WACA, and the wicketkeeper could be batting with Malan again at The G.
Turning to the bowlers, Starc leads the way at 7/2. I think that’s a smidgen on the short side, however, in part because I expect Pat Cummins to rip through England at some point on this tour. His 5/1 is much more tempting.
For England, James Anderson is the only one worth mentioning. His 11/2 price to top the first innings bowling is okay, nothing more. While I expect another mammoth Australia score, Anderson will always chip away with a few wickets and could be a winner if he takes four in the first knock. It’s still an unconvincing pick, mind, as any England players are at this stage of the tour.
The hosts are 1/2 to win the Fourth Test. It’s no surprise to see such a short price, of course. Even way out at 17/4, I just cannot see England winning this Test. The manner of their defeat in Perth was indicative of a side looking down the barrel of another thorough humiliation.
Tip: Innings defeat at 7/2