Eng: One win to clinch urn

2010-12-24 11:04
Andrew Strauss (AP)

Melbourne - England still have the upper hand going into the final two Tests of an enthralling Ashes series, needing only one more victory to retain the coveted urn against Australia.

Australia go into Sunday's fourth Melbourne Test fuelled by the momentum from their emphatic 267-run victory in Perth, which levelled the series at 1-1. But they cannot afford a slip-up in the last two matches.

"We always talk about the last two Tests in a series being where things are won and lost," England skipper Andrew Strauss said on Friday.

"The first few games set it up and the last couple bring it home. That is the challenge for us."

England looked poised for their first series triumph Down Under since 1986-87 after an innings victory in the second Adelaide Test, before Ricky Ponting's team hit back spectacularly in the third Test at the WACA.

"All of us need to bring it together in the last two games here and at Sydney," Strauss said in Melbourne.

"Most of our guys still feel in pretty good form, but you need those guys to stand up and deliver at the business end of the series."

Alastair Cook has scored 495 in five innings, Strauss and Jonathan Trott hit centuries in Brisbane, and Kevin Pietersen was unstoppable with a majestic 227 in Adelaide before they all stumbled in Perth.

Strauss gave a strong hint that the in-form Ian Bell would remain at number six despite Paul Collingwood's low-scoring series.

Bell has hit three half-centuries in his four innings this series, while Collingwood has two single-figure scores from four knocks.

"I appreciate why people are clamouring for Bell to go up the order, but I am happy with what he is doing where he is," Strauss said. "He has been a very reassuring presence at number six.

"The main problem is that he has been left with the tail because there haven't been batsmen alongside him building big partnerships. That is our job. I do not think this is a time for massive changes."

Australia looked a different team in Perth with pacemen Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris taking 18 wickets between them as England slumped to sub-200 scores in both innings.

A dilemma for Australia will be whether to retain the four-man pace attack that was so effective on the lively WACA wicket, or call up untried spinner Michael Beer on the drop-in MCG pitch.

Australia have never gone into an MCG Test without a frontline spinner during 102 Tests going back to the very first match in 1877.

"We've got to take all these things into consideration when we pick the team, but we also have to pick what we think is the best balanced attack for the conditions and the opposition we're playing against," Ponting said.

Even though Steve Smith has been primarily chosen as a number six batsman and did not bowl in Perth, Ponting indicated he could use the all-rounder as his main spinner with his leg-breaks.

"Only a few months ago he played as our number one-picked spinner against Pakistan in England so I'm not worried about what he'll be able to give," the skipper said.

Concern eased Friday over whether Ponting will miss the Melbourne Test with a fractured finger. He broke the little finger on his left hand while attempting a slips catch during the Perth Test.

"He said it felt pretty good after facing some balls on the machines and facing the bowlers (in the nets)," vice-captain Michael Clarke said on Friday.

"We're all hopeful and confident. He's going to have to wait until tomorrow (Saturday) to see how it pulls up after having a bat today.

"But he's pretty happy with how things went today."

Clarke said Ponting would avoid his usual position in slips for the Melbourne Test.

"Ricky definitely won't field in slips. He'll probably field at mid-off or mid-on," Clarke said.

The Australians have won four of their last five Ashes Tests at the MCG, where officials are forecasting a record single-day crowd on Sunday in excess of 91 000.

Read more on:    ashes  |  andrew strauss  |  jonathan trott

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