England seem likely to keep faith with the batting order which let them down so badly in the third Test match. Although they were bowled out for 187 and 123 in Perth, all the signs from inside the camp are that not only will they retain the personnel but also send them out in the same order for the fourth match which starts here at the MCG on Boxing Day.
The tourists have not trained since the heavy defeat which levelled the Ashes series at 1-1 and as usual are playing their selection cards notoriously close to their chest, but nothing has happened to suggest an alteration in approach. It remains possible that a bowler will be omitted, probably the paceman Steven Finn, perversely the leading wicket-taker in the series, which would seem off considering that it was the batsmen who caused all the trouble for England. If Finn is omitted Tim Bresnan is expected to take his place, which bolsters the batting but arguably removes a wicket-taking threat.
There is hardly a case for bringing in the squad's only spare batsman, Eoin Morgan, who has had only one innings on the entire tour, which lasted 15 minutes and yielded six runs against Victoria a fortnight ago.
The man most under pressure, as he has been throughout a career that has now spanned 66 Test matches, is Paul Collingwood. In four innings so far his top score is 42 and he looks out of sorts, playing away from his body with the short backlift or bottom-handed shovel more accentuated than ever.
Collingwood can probably not be dropped because of his importance in other areas such as being the side's fifth bowler and his catching behind the wicket, at third slip to the fast bowlers and often as the lone slip to Graeme Swann's off-spin. There is a suggestion that he exchange places with Ian Bell, who has looked in magisterial form for most of the tour and has twice virtually run out of partners when batting at No 6.
Collingwood has the backing of his colleagues. Alastair Cook spoke warmly of his fighting spirit on Monday and yesterday Kevin Pietersen said: "We all know that when he has his back against the wall, the one man who is going to deliver is Collingwood. So I would not be surprised that if we are 100 for 3 this week Collingwood will get 150.
"I haven't heard anything about shifting around the batting order. Belly is in the form of his life and we're very lucky to have someone who can bat at one, two, three, four, five, six – obviously I wouldn't bat him anywhere lower than six."
There remains an attractive case for keeping Bell at six because he has scored five of his 11 hundreds there and he averages 56. Then again, in his 17 innings at No 5 he has scored four hundreds, including his career best 199 against South Africa in 2008, and has an average of 62.40. It can only be a matter of time and if not now, then soon.
Shane Warne is convinced Australia will take a specialist spinner into the Boxing Day Test but believes that in Michael Beer the selectors have chosen the wrong man for the job. Beer, who has taken 16 first-class wickets at an average of 43 in seven matches, was a shock inclusion in the 12-man squad for the Perth Test and appears likely to play in Melbourne after he was retained in an unchanged squad ahead of the MCG game. But with the Ashes battle delicately poised at 1-1, Warne has called for the in-form Nathan Hauritz to be rushed back into the side for the Melbourne and Sydney Tests.
"I think Beer was a horses for courses selection [in Perth]," Warne said. "What has impressed me about Hauritz, he's gone back and taken wickets and made runs. As I said before the Test series, I think Hauritz deserves first chance and if he didn't work out, try the next in line. So I think it still stands that Hauritz deserves a chance for Melbourne and Sydney."
Hauritz, who was controversially dumped at the expense of Xavier Doherty before the Brisbane Test, has taken 19 wickets at 26.78 in six domestic first-class appearances this season. He is also coming off consecutive centuries with the bat having smashed 146 against South Australia and 110 not out against Queensland over the past fortnight.
While he does not agree with their current choice, Warne urged selectors not to go in without a specialist spinner. "Historically, [the] Melbourne Test match has always needed a spinner, as you don't always pick a team for the first innings," he explained. "It's hard to change a winning team but I think a spinner will play. The only reason a spinner won't play is if Australia want to go with five seamers, including [Shane] Watson, and bowl lots of chin music."
Warne also played down suggestions the MCG curator has been instructed to spice up the wicket in a bid to ensure a repeat of the Perth result. "It's a drop-in wicket so there's not much you can do to the wicket," he said. "It will be flat and hard work for the bowlers after the new ball has lost its hardness. It's warm in Melbourne and staying like this for the next week so there might be a bit more grass on it at the start, but I don't think it's a conspiracy theory."Reuse content