Australia plot another Boxing Day blow against England

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Australia will look to extend their Christmas cheer into the dead rubber Boxing Day test by subjecting a demoralised England to a fourth consecutive loss in the Ashes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Anchored by the brilliant batting of captain Steve Smith, the hosts have barely put a foot wrong in the five-match series and will head to the MCG confident of pushing England toward a second successive whitewash on home soil.

However, they will have to do it without their pace spearhead Mitchell Starc, who is nursing a heel injury and has been replaced by Jackson Bird.

While Starc’s absence is a big relief for the tourists, Tasmania paceman Bird has been in impressive form in the domestic Sheffield Shield.

Right-armer Bird also has ample MCG experience, having made his test debut against Sri Lanka at the Melbourne colosseum and also bowled in last year’s Boxing Day test against Pakistan.

More of a line and length bowler, Bird’s inclusion robs Australia of the express pace, swing and left-arm variation of Starc, however.

“They’ve had three bowlers who can all bowl 90 miles an hour (144 kph),” England paceman James Anderson told the BBC of Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.

“But you look beyond that, they’ve got problems.”

Worrying form

England have a few of their own issues to deal with, not least the worrying form of their senior players.

With opening batsman Alastair Cook and paceman Stuart Broad both enduring a poor series, pundits have called on selectors to be ruthless and start the regeneration of Joe Root’s team now rather than later.

The calls are almost certain to be ignored given the players’ long service and lofty standing, but the pair will hope to prove they still belong at the highest level in the final tests in Melbourne and Sydney.

England’s pace stocks have been gutted by injuries and they are another man down with Craig Overton ruled out of the Melbourne match with a broken rib.

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