Tourists at home despite changes to SCG

On all but two occasions when England have won the Ashes in Australia they have also won at least one Test match in Sydney. So much for the intimidatory effects of The Hill.

The exceptions were in 1884-85 when the tourists won a taut series 3-2 and lost both matches at the SCG (perhaps it was The Hill that did it) and the last time that they won the urn away from home in 1986-87. On the latter occasion Mike Gatting's team went to Sydney for the last Test already 2-0 ahead, the trophy thus secure.

Australia picked an unknown spin bowler called Peter Taylor for the match (conspiracy theorists still reckon that they meant to select an up and coming young batsman called Mark Taylor who was not to receive a call-up for another two years) and he responded by taking eight wickets and scoring a crucial 42 in the second innings.

It helped to win the match by 55 runs and Australian cricket never looked back. Until now. Their period of domination appears well and truly to have been finished by England in this series.

Except that the series is not yet over. By winning at the SCG next week, Australia could level the rubber at 2-2 and thoroughly ruin England's party. England would do well to invoke the memory of 1987 and also other Ashes winning campaigns.

The SCG, like cricket grounds the world over, is much changed. The Hill, where the larrikins once gathered and let the Poms know where they stood, has long gone. Fancy new stands have been built, the latest named in honour of Victor Trumper, one of the great Australians.

For several years it was renowned for being the best spinner's wicket outside the subcontinent. That no longer pertains, though spinners of all hues would still rather bowl here than most other places. The new stands may encourage swing bowlers.

England last secured a series here on one of their greatest Ashes triumphs in 1970-71, when Ray Illingworth's side won a match officially designated as the seventh Test (there were originally six; the Melbourne match was a rained off and a second match at the SCG added) by 62 runs.

The series had been hard and tense. England were given not a single lbw verdict during it and the fast bowler John Snow had a fractious relationship with the officious umpire Lou Rowan who stood in all but one Test. After bowling a bouncer, Snow went down to long leg at the end of the over and was assaulted by an Aussie spectator. Illingworth led the team off the field, but England wrapped it up on day five.

Sydney Details

Australia (probable) M J Clarke (capt), S R Watson, P J Hughes, U T Khawaja, M E K Hussey, S P D Smith, B J Haddin (wkt), M G Johnson, M A Beer, P M Siddle, B W Hilfenhaus.

England (probable) A J Strauss (capt), A N Cook, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, M J Prior (wkt), T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson, C T Tremlett.

Umpires B Bowden (NZ) and A Dar (Pak).

Weather High chance of showers with heavy cloud. Maximum Temperature: 30C.

TV Live: Sky Sports 1, Tomorrow, 10.30pm-8am. Highlights: Sky Sports, ITV4

Odds Australia 9-4 England 11-8 Draw 7-4

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