Michael Vaughan has urged England to wreck Shane Warne's retirement party by ending the legendary leg-spinner's brilliant career with a pair of defeats. With the Ashes already in Australian hands, England will be no more than bit-part players at one of sport's biggest annual events, the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Warne's departure will dominate proceedings at the fourth Test, with up to 100,000 fans expected to show their appreciation for cricket's greatest showman on each of the first four days. Test cricket's highest wicket taker requires one more victim to take his tally to 700 and it should provide his home crowd with a moment to remember.
The anticipated retirement of Glenn McGrath from Test cricket, along with Warne's final match, is sure to take centre stage in Sydney on 2 January and, again, it should give home fans a special memory. Australian minds over the next fortnight will be on these two great sportsmen and their Ashes-winning heroes alone. What England do is largely irrelevant.
"The retirement of Warne and the expected retirement of McGrath should give England all the motivation they need," said Vaughan, England's official captain. "They have been great cricketers but it would be nice to send them off with a message: 'Yes, you were hard to play against, but on the last occasion we played against you we beat you.'
"Australia look a very focused side and I am sure they will be wanting to win the series 5-0. England's motivation should be to make sure that does not happen. It has been a tough series for England. Australia have played some brilliant cricket. Every time there has been a high-pressure situation Australia have come out and dominated the period of play. They have started every game well too.
"But in certain periods England have been good as well. I know we are 3-0 down but there are quite a few positives to take out of the series. Alastair Cook's hundred in Perth was outstanding and Ian Bell has played very well too. Monty Panesar took five wickets in his first Test in Australia, which is an excellent effort. But we have to admit that Australia have played much better cricket than England.
"Any Test against Australia is a big, big game, especially with a lot of young players in the side. They have a great opportunity to gain invaluable experience. The last time England were in Australia the Melbourne and Sydney games were the most memorable we played in, because we played good cricket and put Australia under pressure. We played a good game at the MCG but lost and we then went on to win in Sydney."
Vaughan batted beautifully in Melbourne and Sydney four years ago, scoring 145 and 183 respectively. Historically, England have won Tests when the fate of the Ashes is known. In 1994-95, Michael Atherton's team triumphed in Adelaide, and in 1998-99 Alec Stewart's side were victorious in Melbourne and, in 2002-03, Nasser Hussain led his troops to a comprehensive win in Sydney. But this time Australia appear far more determined. They want retribution for the defeat in 2005 and a whitewash is a distinct possibility.
England are unlikely to field the same side as the one comprehensively beaten in Perth, and Geraint Jones looks set for an unhappy Christmas. Jones has had a dreadful tour with the bat - he bagged a pair in Perth - and must surely make way for Chris Read. Jones's omission from the one-day squad suggests Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, has lost patience with him.
Fletcher and Andrew Flintoff, England's selectors, also have a tough decision on the bowling front. Sajid Mahmood bowled 17 overs in Perth and his moan in a national newspaper, where he suggested that Flintoff "ignored" him, will not have improved his chances of playing. But who will England pick instead? The dressing room is not exactly bursting with options. James Anderson could come back, and Jamie Dalrymple could make his Test debut if the pitch looks likely to take spin. Liam Plunkett is reported to have been bowling well in the nets but, whoever England play is unlikely to give sleepless nights to Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, who will lead an unchanged side.
Vaughan is not available for the Tests but, in an effort to convince the selectors that he is fit enough to play in the one-day series which begins on 12 January, he will play two games for the MCC.
Vaughan has been criticised for being around the Test squad during the Ashes but he defended his actions yesterday. "I know a number of people in the media have said I've been a distraction, but I've tried to keep as far away from things as I can," he said. "I've stayed away from the grounds and enjoyed working with the young lads at the Academy. I've seen Freddie [Flintoff] twice on the trip. I saw him in Brisbane and for a three-minute period in Perth. We haven't spoken on the phone."
Vaughan was, however, delighted to have been selected in England's one-day squad. "It has been a long road to get into this position," he admitted. "It has been a tough year for me, but I am really pleased with the progress I have made over the past few weeks.
"There have been several periods when I wondered whether I would ever get the chance of representing my country again and I am not quite there yet. I am going to have to work hard on my right knee for the remainder of my career. I came to Australia in November with a view of being fit for the Ashes, but I have not been able to play in enough games of cricket to do that.
"I have no idea about the captaincy at this moment in time. I am just delighted to get back in the squad and in with a chance of representing England again. If the captaincy was made available I would take it because it is one of the best jobs in the world."
Warne's footwear sponsors have sent a pair of golden boots from England for him to wear when he takes his 700th Test wicket. McGrath's sponsors did the same in 2005 when he reached 500.
McGrath played down retirement talk yesterday. "To me, it's business as usual," he said. "I'm just preparing for these next two Test matches, then it's the one-day series and then I'll take it from there."
* The World Anti-Doping Agency has carried out its threat to file an appeal against the lifting of bans on Pakistan fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. Shoaib was banned for two years and Asif for 12 months after traces of nandrolone were found in their samples, but a Pakistan Cricket Board panel upheld their appeals.Reuse content