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The Ashes: Australia v England talking points ahead of the fourth Test

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England have already lost the Ashes before Christmas, after Australia swept into an unassailable 3-0 lead.

It's been a series to forget for Joe Root and co. on and off the field.

The Ben Stokes saga before a ball was even bowled, Jonny Bairstow deciding to greet rival players with a headbutt rather than a handshake, and players pouring drinks over others have all been talking points this winter.

On the field, it hasn't been much better either.

In fact, all three Tests have been pretty comfortable for Steve Smith and his men, and with just two matches remaining, they can play comfortably, knowing that the infamous urn is theirs this time around.

Nonetheless, there are still two Tests to be played, and unfortunately for England, they do have to play them.

So, Press Association Sport have assessed the talking points before the fourth Test of five in Melbourne.

Mason Crane Debut?

… or Wood?

England will almost certainly have to replace Craig Overton, who has cracked a rib and could risk further injury if he were to play.

Uncapped pair Mason Crane and Tom Curran are in the running, with the seamer at the head of the queue ahead of the 20-year-old leg-spinner.

England Nets Session

England would deploy the extra pace of Mark Wood if they could, as he continues his recovery from a heel injury, but they appear unconvinced he will be able to get through five days.

Curran is the most conservative choice, and will probably get the nod.

Unwanted Overseas Record

If England were to add defeat in Melbourne and Sydney to the three which have already seen Australia regain the Ashes, not only would they be whitewashed for a third time in four tours here, but they would complete nine consecutive overseas losses after last year’s tour of India.

Jonny Bairstow has identified the start of a new mini-series in the final two Tests, a motivational concept as England try to find a new beginning.

England Nets Session

If they can avoid 5-0 somehow, it will be a fair effort from here.

No Tactical Change for Australia

Australia’s fastest bowler Pat Cummins has made it clear there will be no compromise in the hosts’ tactics against England’s tailenders.

He reasons that roughing up the lower order is a legitimate tactic against ‘batsmen’ who have more time than ever to prepare as best they can.

Cummins adds that he and his colleagues have copped their fair share too in this series – and after checking the umpires’ thoughts on the matter, England number 11 James Anderson has clarified he has “no problem” with the line of attack.

Mitchell Starc's Fitness

Australia v England - Third Test: Day 4

Mitchell Starc’s impact has been critical in the series so far.

The left-armer may not have been quite as unstoppable as his predecessor and namesake Mitchell Johnson four years ago, but with a table-topping 19 wickets in three Tests, he has been one of Australia’s driving forces.

He is rated only “50/50” to be fit to take part in Melbourne, after spending much of the past week on crutches with his bruised heel.

At this stage, it will be surprising if Australia risk him – and in his absence, there is just a hint of much-needed respite for England.

Joe Root's Reaction

Australia v England - Third Test: Day 5

Ricky Ponting’s critique of England captain Joe Root was unexpectedly pointed.

He identifies a leader lacking respect, at times looking like a “little boy” and who needs to “step up big time” for his country.

Since and also during his playing days, Australia great Ponting established a reputation as an especially astute reader of his sport.

His assessment of Root appears a little harsh, however, even uncharacteristically askew – perhaps misled by the Yorkshireman’s still boyish features.

Much determination lies beneath, but Root finds himself leading a team which has simply had less ammunition than the hosts.

The Ashes
Joe Root
England cricket
Australia cricket

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