SPORT

England hopes to arrest slump

BABIES' DAY OUT: With the Ashes already in Australia's kitty, Matthew Hayden can afford to relax with his son Josh and daughter Grace at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on a Christmas Day training session on Monday.

BABIES' DAY OUT: With the Ashes already in Australia's kitty, Matthew Hayden can afford to relax with his son Josh and daughter Grace at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on a Christmas Day training session on Monday.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: AP



Ted Corbett

Flintoff says he is not focussed on Christmas but on the TestsIt will be the 100th Test at the MCG

MELBOURNE: England will probably begin the Boxing Day Test at the MCG with the team that should have started the series in Brisbane more than a month ago.

It says a lot about the way this tour has been managed that it has taken so long to come to the conclusion that the England ought to have chosen those that beat Pakistan last summer.

Monty Panesar bowled his slow spin so superbly in those Tests that he forced Duncan Fletcher, the coach, to change his opinion completely. However by the time England arrived in Australia he had gone back to his original thought; that Ashley Giles was the better option. He had also rejected the claims of Sajid Mahmood for the lukewarm potential of James Anderson and gone back to Geraint Jones instead of Chris Read.

You may well ask why. Fletcher, surely in his last days with England, has a doubtful honour against his name. He may well have ruined two wicket-keepers in the course of a month. It will be interesting to see how Read performs; indeed it will be fascinating to see how the whole team pick itself off the floor.

In their farewell press conferences, both Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath made it clear that they expected nay, demanded a 5-0 result to this series and if England avoids that wipe-out, it deserves congratulations. Australia, a vastly improved team from the bunch of individuals who let themselves down in England 15 months ago, is beyond question the greater team.

Flintoff disappoints

Andrew Flintoff, a disappointment as a captain on this tour for all his heroics in India, says he is not focussed on Christmas but on the Tests and, since he is one of the most personable men to hold the job in the last 25 years, we will all wish him well. Australia needs no good wishes.

In according to its own reckoning the 100th Test at the MCG, where it all began in 1877, it will have so much inspiration it will be impossible for any side to match it in a country where passion for sport runs high.

Standing ovations for Warne a Melbourne lad and McGrath for all he is from New South Wales will only be the start as 100,000 voices join the paens of praise for everything Australian. I acknowledge the high praise for Warne; there has never been a better spinner whatever the figures say. McGrath is also an outstanding bowler but was not Curtly Ambrose greater?

In the past week, Ambrose has not received a mention in the local papers even though in his greatest moments he would have bowled out Australia and England on the same day and still had the energy to play his air guitar in the dressing room for hours afterwards.

Sad trends

I write as an observer of this game for more than 25 years who has been sickened by what has happened in the last three Tests. Not just England's wretched show which has a whitewash written all over it but in the one-eyed reporting of those miserable defeats.

Australia has had its revenge but that, apparently, is not enough. Buckets of swill have also to be thrown over everyone in the England camp, lies printed about the most innocent men, unrelenting hogwash added as each writer competes to see who can produce the most damning account.

I have no argument against Australia. It deserves its triumph, earned by the sweat of its collective brow, its aggregate talent and its will to win. Sadly, its support group lacks any sort of grace and for that reason alone I hope England can scrape at least one win in the next two Tests.

The teams: England (from): Andrew Flintoff (capt.), Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Chris Read, Sajid Mahmood, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, James Anderson.

Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt.), Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Glenn McGrath.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan). TV Umpire: Peter Parker. Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).

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