Australia’s rise from Ashes to draw big crowd

MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – 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 tonight.
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.
The hosts, sparked by a swing-bowling masterclass 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Teams:
Australia (probable) – Shane Watson, Philip Hughes, Ricky  Ponting, Michael Clarke, Mike Hussey, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin,  Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle.
England (probable) – Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Jonathan  Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell, Matt Prior,  Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett.

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