England expect fired-up Australia
England know they must play equally as well in Sydney as they did in Melbourne if they are to win the Ashes outright this winter.
An innings-and-157-run trouncing of Australia at the MCG means Andrew Strauss’ tourists have retained the urn with an unassailable 2-1 lead and head for the final Test at the SCG on the verge of history as the first England team to win a series down under since 1986/87.
In a seesaw battle so far, though, that is no formality against hosts minus injured captain Ricky Ponting for this last match - starting on Monday - but who themselves inflicted a wide-margin defeat on England well inside four days in Perth.
England’s champion off-spinner Graeme Swann, who finished 2010 as the world’s leading wicket-taker in that calendar year, is certainly well aware only another outstanding effort will be properly rewarded.
“We still face a formidable opponent, probably smarting from the last game - we’re not taking anything for granted,” he said.
“We’ve played exceptional cricket in the last game and we’re going to have to do so again.”
One problem England will not have, however, is a hangover from Melbourne, where they celebrated their achievement significantly but not for long.
“That’s been sorted out already,” added Swann.
“We haven’t had celebrations going on for many days.
“We had one night out after the game - you should celebrate a Test victory and an Ashes-retaining victory heavily.
“I tried to a lead a merry dance. But that was one night, and we’ve moved on.”
Swann took only two of his 13 wickets this winter in the innings win in Melbourne.
But coach Andy Flower described his spell in tandem with Tim Bresnan as one of his best.
Swann agreed: “Melbourne was probably the best I’ve bowled in a long while.
“I’ve already said I didn’t bowl well in Brisbane. Perth, I could bowl 100 times on that pitch and not do better than I did.”
Swann met expectations in England’s innings win in Adelaide by exploiting a wearing pitch - and there is the prospect of more help for him at the SCG.
“You always look forward to bowling on pitches renowned for spin - but that can bring pressure as well if people expect it to turn square, like Sydney did 15 years ago,” he said.
Michael Hussey will stand in his way, of course - and Swann rates him and Michael Clarke, set to deputise as captain for the injured Ricky Ponting, as the two toughest Australians to bowl to.
“They are both very fine players of spin, because they go down the wicket very late - and once you’ve let go of the ball you can’t do anything about it.”
Swann therefore prizes the wicket of Clarke at the MCG, snapped up at second slip by Strauss, very highly.
“It is always satisfying when you come up with a plan and it works straightaway - and Straussy won’t mind me saying it was 100% my idea to put him at second slip and bowl around the wicket.
“I don’t get many pieces of inspiration and brilliance. But that was one of them, and I will take that to my grave with me.”
Swann can be expected to play a leading role at a venue traditionally noted for its assistance to spin bowlers.
Although that trend has not been so prevalent at the SCG over the last two years, England’s batsmen are also likely to have to deal with spin - in the shape of Michael Beer, on his Test debut.
Beer’s team-mate Hussey has seen enough of the left-arm spinner, who had never set foot inside this famous ground before Australia’s practice session there today, to have faith in his ability at the highest level.
“He’s got very good control, very disciplined and he gets good revs on the ball as well,” Hussey said of the 26-year-old. “He uses drift very well too.
“What we like about him is he’s got a very level head, and handles pressure situations very well - which obviously you’re going to come up against in Test match cricket all the time.
“Having all those attributes together will definitely help him to have success at the highest level.”
Even so, Hussey warns it would be unwise and unfair to expect too much too soon from a cricketer about to make his debut in the Ashes.
“It’s going to take time to feel comfortable around the team, and around Test match level,” he added.
“It’s important he goes out there, relaxes and tries to enjoy the opportunity.
“I remember my first Test I was pretty much an emotional wreck, so I just hope we don’t put too much pressure on him for his first Test - let him go out there and show his skills and hope he can do a great job for us, and then get better and better.”