Patience key for Strauss
England must tame the MCG hordes tomorrow, and then prepare for a patience test in pursuit of the Ashes.
Andrew Strauss has told his team they cannot afford to be overwhelmed by the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing in front of almost 100,000 people.
But with the series tied at 1-1 with two to play, he has also identified a patience game as the way to succeed at a venue where seam and swing can hold sway and there are pitfalls for batsmen who try to attack too early.
Similarly, rewards are likely to come to bowlers who stay calm and do not start banging the ball in halfway down the wicket.
James Anderson appears sure to be leading England's attack, having been declared "100% fit" by Strauss, following a niggle in his side - while Australia captain Ricky Ponting is confident he too will be able to lead his country after recovering sufficiently from a broken left little finger.
Whoever takes part, though, Strauss is convinced the main requirement is to avoid being sucked into too much adventure because of the inevitable noise and the size of the occasion.
Asked what he sees as the key quality at a ground where he made a first-innings 50 four years ago, the England captain replied: "Patience - which can be quite hard when there's a big crowd here and you've got a bit of adrenaline going through your blood.
"To remain patient and calm is quite tough."
England will be well aware, after their dour draw in a tour match against Victoria here two weeks ago, that flashy players will have to rein themselves in.
"A lot of patience is needed. Sometimes it can be pretty tough to score here," Strauss added.
"You've got to be prepared to suck it in a little bit, absorb some pressure for a while and then hope to come out the other side as a batting unit.
"The general consensus at the MCG is if you go too hard at it too early you're going to be back in the hut."
In case England needed any reminder of the partisan element in an expected 90,000-plus crowd, Ponting provided it this morning by agreeing the tourists may be intimidated by the occasion.
"I'm sure he does," Strauss countered.
"But I don't think we will, no.
"One of the things that's important is that you're ready for it, and not surprised by it.
"That's one of the messages we've been trying to get across - 'be prepared for it; it's going to be quite a big spectacle, and it's out of the ordinary'.
"We don't usually play in front of that number of people."
Anderson's fitness allows more leeway for England to rest leading wicket-taker Steven Finn, and Strauss' long answer to whether that may happen was confirmation enough that selection for this pivotal match is far from straightforward.
"The key before every Test match is to try to get the balance of attack that you think is most likely to work on any given wicket," he began.
"We've had to think long and hard about that.
"Finny's done some really good things on this tour, and taken quite a few wickets."
Finn took five wickets but went at more than five runs per over in England's 267-run third-Test defeat at the WACA.
"He was probably a bit expensive in Perth, if we're honest," said Strauss.
"But he's young and he's learning, and I think he's going to keep getting better.
"We want to really make up for our performance in Perth. I'm very confident we'll do that."
Ponting was forceful in his response when asked if England may be intimidated - although he did give the travelling support a mention too.
"There'll probably be 20 or 30 thousand 'Barmy Army' supporters here but I'd like to think this venue's probably one venue where they might get drowned out a little bit," he said.
"No doubt we'll get great support. There might be even the odd 'boo' come towards the England players this week, not just me all the time. "
Ponting will take the precaution of fielding away from his usual position in the slips to try to keep his finger out of the firing line.
He acknowledges too that England's bowlers may be detailed to test out his injury with some short balls - but warns that may not be the right line of attack here.
"Maybe they will. They probably will, but it mightn't be that sort of wicket," he said.
"It might be a wicket where you need to pitch the ball up a little bit more.
"It's supposed to be pretty overcast - I'd expect the ball to seam around a little bit and swing around a bit. I'll be prepared from whatever comes my way."
He knows he will need to be - especially if he happened to be listening when Strauss delivered a curt response to the suggestion England may take note of 'goodwill to all men' when they decide where to pitch the ball to the Australian captain. "It's not Christmas tomorrow," he said.
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