The big picture
It’s every cricketer’s Christmas dream: a Test match at the ‘G, with a big crowd. While Australian players experience this every year, for everyone in this South African squad, this is the first time they have been featured on this grand occasion.
In subsequent years, Cricket South Africa tried to keep their team at home during the festival – a reasonable plan considering it is summer in South Africa too, but compared to Australia. was much less successful. None of the three venues the CSA has tried to host a Boxing Day Test – St George’s Park, Kingsmead and SuperSport Park – has ever been as packed, or as intimidating, as the MCG.
Australia WWWLW (last five complete matches, most recent first)
South Africa LLWW
In the spotlight
David Warner will be capped for the 100th time at the MCG, an occasion that seemed unlikely when he debuted in 2011 on the back of his reputation as a white-ball basher, and in his final series against South Africa. Even then it was unlikely. 2018. He is one of Australia’s boldest players on and off the field, and approaches this milestone with no form. Since scoring his last century in January 2020, Warner has played 15 Tests, scoring 678 runs, including two 90s and one 50, and averaging 26.07. In 2022, he averages just 20.61, and there are questions about how long he will continue playing the longest format. The answer may come at the MCG.
Pat Cummins confirmed the XI on Christmas Day and hometown hero Scott Boland retained his place. A tough decision was avoided with Josh Hazlewood making his call that he was not quite ready to return after his side strain.
Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Usman Khawaja, 3 Marence Lebuschgen, 4 Steven Smith, 5 Travis Head, 6 Cameron Green, 7 Alex Carey (wicket), 8 Pat Cummins (captain), 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Nathan Lyon, 11 Scott Boland.
South Africa had finalized their XI for Christmas, but the only thing they were willing to give away was that there would be a change in the line-up, not the composition of the team. That means they will continue with a 6-5 split, fielding four specialist quicks and spinners and have not been tempted to lengthen their under-fire batting line-up. If there is a change, it is likely to be in the top three where van der Dusen, who is returning from a broken finger in Brisbane, could make way for Theuns de Bruyne.
South Africa (Probable): 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Sarl Ervi, 3 Rasi van der Dusen/Thunes de Bruyne 4 Temba Bauma, 5 Khaya Zondo, 6 Kyle Vereen (WC), 7 Marco Johnson, 8 Kesho Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada. , 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Pitch and conditions
The Gabba was rated below average for excess 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 think, it seems. The general consensus is that this MCG pitch will perform a little less than its 2021 incarnation, with both teams hoping it will create a good matchup between bat and ball. Two days before the Test, South African speedster Enrich Nortje said he expected good pace and bounce but not the sideways movement of Brisbane.
The test is going to start in hot and humid conditions. Melbourne is forecast to be 32 and 36 degrees on the first and second days, with some early morning showers likely, before a wet third day gives way to cooler temperatures from the previous two days.
Stats and Trivia
“There’s a part of everybody that’s a little bit upset if they lose Scott.”
Pat Cummins On Scott Boland
“We’ll try and get lunch somewhere but obviously it’s a PG-rated lunch. If the game was on the 28th, maybe things would be different.”
South Africa is keeping it clean this Christmas. Dean Elgar
Firdous Munda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent.