It’s every cricketer’s Christmas dream: a Test match at the ‘G, with a big crowd in attendance. While Australia’s players experience this annually, for everyone in this South African squad, it is their first time featuring in this iconic occasion.
In the years since, Cricket South Africa sought to keep their team at home over the festive period – a reasonable plan considering it is prime summer in South Africa too, but a far less successful one than Australia’s. None of the three venues CSA have tried to host the Boxing Day Test – St George’s Park, Kingsmead and SuperSport Park – are ever as full, or as intimidating, as the MCG.
Australia WWWLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
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In the spotlight
David Warner will be capped for the 100th time at the MCG, an occasion that may have seemed unlikely when he made his debut on the back of his reputation as a white-ball basher in 2011, and unlikelier still after his last series against South Africa, in 2018. He is one of Australia’s boldest players, on and off the field, and heads towards this major milestone without much form. Since scoring his last hundred in January 2020, Warner has played 15 Tests, scored 678 runs, including two nineties and a 50, and averages 26.07. In 2022, he averages just 20.61, and there are questions about how much longer he will keep playing the longest format. The answer may come at the MCG.
Pat Cummins confirmed the XI on Christmas Day with hometown cult hero Scott Boland retaining his place. A tough decision was actually avoided with Josh Hazlewood making his own call that he wasn’t quite ready for a return after his side strain.
Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marnus Labuschagne, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins (capt), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Scott Boland
South Africa had finalised their XI on Christmas Eve, but the only thing they were willing to give away was that any changes would be made in the line-up, not the team composition. That means they will continue with a 6-5 split, allowing all four specialist quicks and the spinner to take the field and have not been drawn into lengthening their under-fire batting line-up. If a switch happens, it’s likely to be in the top three where Rassie van der Dussen, who returned from a broken finger in Brisbane, could make way for Theunis de Bruyn.
South Africa (possible): 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Sarel Erwee, 3 Rassie van der Dussen/Theunis de Bruyn 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Khaya Zondo, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Pitch and conditions
The Gabba was given a below average rating for extra bounce and occasional excessive seam movement and inconsistent bounce, and the MCG produced a low-scoring Test last year. So, what are the odds on another bowler-friendly surface? Less than you’d think, it seems. The general consensus is that this MCG pitch will do a little less than its 2021 avatar, with both teams hopeful it will produce a good contest between bat and ball. Two days before the Test, South Africa’s speedster Anrich Nortje said he expected good pace and bounce but not as much sideways movement as Brisbane.
The Test is set to start in hot and humid conditions. Melbourne is forecast to be 32 and 36 degrees on days one and two, with the possibility of some showers on the opening morning, before a wetter third day will give way to cooler temperatures on the last two days.
Stats and trivia
“We will try and get a lunch in somewhere but it’s obviously a PG-rated lunch. If the game was on the 28th, it might have been a bit different.”
South Africa are keeping it clean this Christmas Day, says Dean Elgar
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
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