Bob Willis: Swann still the trump card as Ashes rivals prepare to play most important hand of all

True, he had a tough time in Perth and was effectively hit out of the attack. But Melbourne will not be like that and I fully expect him to come back with a bang
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Australia had all the aces in Perth and now there is plenty of talk about the visitors shuffling their pack for the big Boxing Day clash in Melbourne. But while this Ashes series has been blown wide open by events at the Waca I still believe England have a trump card in Graeme Swann.

Clearly, there are a lot of lessons for Andrew Strauss's team to learn from their heavy defeat in the third Test. But the best thing they can do this week is try to dismiss that match from their minds because there is not another pitch in world cricket like the one they encountered at the Waca.

If you want to look on the dark side of life you could say that when the ball bounces more than usual, or does anything out of the ordinary – as was the case in Perth, and in Johannesburg last winter, and again at Headingley against Australia in 2009 – then our batsmen cannot cope with it. Indeed, they've been christened flat-track bullies by some because of what happened in Brisbane and Adelaide before the fall from grace in Perth. But England must think positively about this match.

I do think they've got it in them to hit back hard. There has been quite a lot of discussion already this series about the strength and confidence levels of the two teams – and after Adelaide, only Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin would have got into a composite XI. Now, probably Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and perhaps Ryan Harris are in it as well. But, crucially from England's perspective, Swann can be the star turn in these last two matches – certainly at Sydney and quite likely at Melbourne as well.

Yes, Australia have had a plan to get after Swann, and I love watching the way not only Hussey but also Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke try to tackle him. We are so used to seeing England batsmen playing spin from the crease and now here are those three Australians dancing down the pitch straight away, trying to take the attack to the bowler.

But Swann will relish that challenge, and I believe he is up to meeting it because he has not become the best spin bowler in the world through a fluke or two.

True, Swann had a tough time of it in Perth and was effectively hit out of the attack. But no spinner – past, present or future – likes the Waca. Just ask Shane Warne or Murali. No spinner enjoys bowling slow there, but whatever surface they produce in Melbourne it will not be like the one England encountered in Western Australia and I fully expect Swann to come back with a bang.

Apart from relying on their spinner to bowl a lot more overs in this Test, what else should England do?

After a heavy defeat there is always talk about changing the side. For example, "Steve Finn needs a rest". Well, does he? Would England contemplate leaving out the leading run-scorer in the series? I don't think so, and Finn is the leading wicket-taker. OK, he may have had some luck, picking up a few wickets in less than classical ways, but the fact remains he has been more successful than anyone and it would be very hard on him if he were left out.

If Finn is rested, or dropped – call it what you like – then Tim Bresnan, rather than Ajmal Shahzad, must be the man to step up because England clearly believe he is ahead of his Yorkshire team-mate at the moment. Bresnan does have something to offer with the bat and the selectors could argue that Finn and Chris Tremlett are similar bowlers, who look for steep bounce from a good length.

So if it is a slowish pitch with some grass left on it they may say Bresnan's lower trajectory and more economical analysis might help their cause more than than having two 6ft 8in bowlers, but it would be tough on Finn.

Whatever the decision, I still believe England's insistence on fielding a four-man attack leaves them one bowler light, but clearly they are not going to change their approach now.

The only other talking point concerns who bats at No 5. I don't think it would dent Paul Collingwood's confidence to be moved down the order to No 6 behind Ian Bell. In fact, he tends to thrive when he is walking the plank – and he is very much a team man who is unlikely to have a problem with doing something that is best for the side.

Put it this way, Collingwood does not have the ego of someone like Kevin Pietersen, who has said in the past he doesn't want to bat No 3 but prefers to remain at either four or five.

Whatever happens team-wise, though, an Ashes Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is one of the great sporting occasions. And with Australia having stormed back into the series, the first day of the fourth Test could see the MCG touching that record of 90,000 spectators if the weather plays ball. As I know from personal experience, all those Aussies inside the ground will be in good Pommie-bashing voice by around teatime. Yes, Strauss and his men may hear the odd bit of good humour but mostly the sports-mad Melburnians will be screaming for some British blood.

It is up to England to quieten them down. I think they can and I'm sticking with my original prediction of the Ashes being retained with a 2-2 scoreline. I just hope, for the sake of fingernails and pulse rates, that England have their two in the bag by the time they leave the MCG.

Bob Willis is on Sky Sports during the Ashes. All five Tests are exclusively live and in HD on Sky Sports 1. www.skysports.com/ashesanywhere

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