Dave Tickner expects Steve Smith and Nathan Lyon to star for Australia in the Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG.
The Ashes have gone, and it’s now just 11/10 – and odds-on in most places – for another 5-0 whitewash. It would be the third in four Ashes series in Australia, with England’s astonishing 3-1 victory in 2010/11 the oasis in the desert.
The big test for Australia now is maintaining the intensity that has carried them to this point. The 2006/07 team was packed full of all-time greats hell-bent on revenge for 2005. The 2013/14 team had Mitchell Johnson and an opposition team imploding in front of their eyes.
This time is slightly different. Australia have been better than England, decisively in the end in all three Tests, but they have not totally dominated a broken team as they did four years ago.
It might be cold comfort for England, but even now the 5-0 doesn’t feel like the formality it did by this stage of those two previous tours.
That’s especially true if Mitchell Starc, leading wicket-taker in the series, is kept out in Melbourne by a bruised heel. Australia will obviously want him on the park, but equally will surely be reluctant to risk him if there’s any risk of long-term damage.
Jackson Bird will come in, and he’s a fine bowler, but there’s little doubt that Starc’s absence would offer some welcome respite for England’s batsmen.
I’m happy enough to swerve Australia at the prices available now their primary objective is complete. But having backed both no draws at 11/8 and a 4-1 correct score at 8/1 pre-series, I’m not about to throw any further support behind England here. If you’ve got no position coming in to the match, England at 5/1 make more appeal than Australia at a shade better than 1/2. I still have no interest in the draw (4/1) here or anywhere else in Australia right now.
Nathan Lyon is an eye-catching 9/2 to be Australia’s top bowler in the first innings here. He had a quiet game in Perth, but the WACA offered him little assistance and his record there suggested it would be the case.
He’s back on happier hunting ground in Melbourne, where he has 23 wickets at exactly 30 apiece in four Tests and has an improving record here. Eighteen of those wickets have come in the last seven innings after five in his first five.
He took 5-50 here against England four years ago, albeit in the second innings, and has taken at least three wickets in three of his last four innings here, including 4-66 in the first innings against West Indies two years ago.
If Starc does miss out, Australia clearly lose their likeliest wicket-taker. Based on the series so far, for all the talk of the Aussie pace trio, there’s a case that in Melbourne conditions Lyon is their next most incisive option. Especially against England’s battery of left-handers – he nipped out four of them (Cook, Ali, Broad, Anderson) to take top-bowler honours in the second Test at Adelaide.
The other bet, and I make no apologies for the obviousness of this, is Steve Smith to score a first-innings century. The odds, 5/2, may be among the skinniest you’ll see in this market. But they are quite simply not skinny enough.
Smith has made 141* and 239 in his two innings against a red ball in this series to date, while his last three first innings at the MCG have yielded 192, 134* and 165* and his average on this ground is 127. You can get similar prices about Smith top-scoring in the innings, but based on what we’ve seen so far it’s more likely he’ll get a hundred and be beaten by someone else than get less than a hundred and prevail. We’d rather take the other Aussie batsmen out of the equation.
Posted at 1315 GMT on 22/12/17.