Positives for England but Boxing Day Test deserves better

The fourth Ashes Test at the MCG ensured there will be no whitewash, but England remain winless.

A dreadful pitch helped prevent England from setting up a run-chase by bowling Australia out for a second time, and they now have just one more chance to claim a victory.

Dejan Kalinic and Nicholas McGee, our writers from Australia and England, offer their thoughts.

 

Dejan Kalinic with the view from Australia:

The Boxing Day Test deserves better.

The Ashes series was already over arriving to Melbourne as Australia tried to take another step towards a whitewash over England.

But from the outset the MCG pitch looked certain to produce a dull contest, and it ended up just that for the most part.

It was flat and slow and offered bowlers very little - some reverse swing at times aside - with wickets falling almost exclusively thanks to errors from batsmen.

A better contest between bat and ball is needed going forward.

Steve Smith helped Australia salvage a draw on a boring final day, showing that England still have few answers when it comes to removing the hosts' captain.

But Smith also dropped Alastair Cook twice as the England opener carried his bat in an incredible innings of 244.

David Warner found some form, but the questions most had over Australia's batting heading into the series largely remain.

Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja, in particular, are under some pressure heading to Sydney, the heat only lessened by Australia's 3-0 series lead.

James Anderson could be forgiven for thinking he was right about Australia's pace attack.

The England seamer questioned the depth of Australia's stocks and Jackson Bird - replacing the injured Mitchell Starc - did little to prove him wrong.

Bird finished with figures of 0-108 on his return, albeit on a wicket doing nothing for the bowlers.

But the pitch should never have taken centre stage in Melbourne, ruining what could potentially have been another fine contest to match the enormity of the Boxing Day Test.

 

Nicholas McGee with the view from England:

England produced passages of competitive play in each of the first three Tests, but finally put together a complete performance this week.

Though the weather, Smith and a pitch not worthy of any Test match - never mind the Boxing Day Test at the MCG - ended England's hopes of victory, they should be proud of their performance.

Stuart Broad found his form with the ball in the first innings, rewarded for disciplined bowling and clever variation in his lines with 4-51, before an enjoyable half-century with the bat in England's reply.

James Anderson (3-61) also shone on the opening two days and there should be renewed faith in England's attack, save for one player.

The road of all roads at the MCG did not offer any turn for Moeen Ali and this continues to be a miserable series for the spinning all-rounder, whose average with the ball is 135.

With the bat he is averaging a paltry 19 and, at this point, he simply looks in need of a break.

Whether he plays in the Sydney finale remains to be seen, and there should be doubts over the long-term future of James Vince, whose failure to review an lbw after inside-edging onto his pads saw him fall for 17.

However, England can celebrate a much-needed revival from their most experienced batsman.

After Cook carried his bat for a stunning 244, the top of the England order has a more credible look.

England may have been unable to take 20 wickets, but the Sydney Cricket Ground pitch should offer far more. Questions remain about the middle order but Cook and Root each look like players back in form. If that stays the case in Sydney, an upset could be on the cards.

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