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Record crowd forecast for 4th Ashes test at MCG

December 21, 2010

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England coach Andy Flower and vice-captain Alastair Cook say they are unconcerned Australia may influence the MCG staff into preparing a pitch that suits the home team. -Photo by AFP

MELBOURNE: Cricket Australia believes the Melbourne Cricket Ground will host a world record crowd of 91,000 on Sunday's opening day of the fourth Ashes test between Australia and England.

The record crowd for a cricket test of 90,800 was set at the ground in 1961 during a test between Australia and the West Indies. The opening day of the 2006 Ashes test on the ground four years ago drew 89,155 fans despite cold conditions.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said Tuesday that with the current series tied at 1-1 “the cricket gods are smiling on us all” and circumstances were ideal for a record crowd.

He expected 300,000 people to attend the match over five days.

Meanwhile, England coach Andy Flower and vice-captain Alastair Cook say they are unconcerned Australia may influence the MCG staff into preparing a pitch that suits the home team.

English media reported that two pitches had been prepared for the test and it was likely the faster and bouncier of the two would be chosen for the game, as it would benefit the pace bowlers who led Australia to a series-leveling win in the third test at Perth.

Cricket Australia rejected the reports, saying pitch preparation was left to local groundsmen.

England can seal a successful Ashes defense by winning at the MCG, but a loss would leave the tourists having to win the final test in Sydney to hold onto the urn.

Despite the high stakes, Cook was fatalistic about any pitch switch.

“That's the beauty of home conditions isn't it? You can prepare a pitch to hopefully suit the home side,” Cook said.

“That's what we try and do in England in certain cases and there's no reason why I would expect Australia not to do it.

“If you went to India, they played three spinners and produced a green seamer you'd be wondering what's going on, so that is what home advantage is and you'd expect everyone to do it.”

Cook acknowledged he would prefer the MCG pitch to be less pacy than the one in Perth. “As a batter you'd much rather it flatter,” he said.

“We obviously got outplayed a little bit in Perth, but our record on bouncy wickets is good back at home and at Old Trafford. “Conditions change from week to week and it's how you adapt to those that determines how successful you are.”

England played state team Victoria at the MCG immediately before the Perth test and found the pitch relatively slow and flat.

“When we were there for the three-day game they were preparing two pitches,” Flower said. “One looked barer than the other, and they were debating then which they wanted to use.

“They weren't that happy with the look of the slightly barer one, so more than likely they'll go with the one with more grass cover.”

Australia coach Tim Nielsen said Ricky Ponting was still the best man to bat at No. 3 for Australia, despite lean recent form.

Ponting has a fractured left little finger but is expected to play in the Melbourne test.

“His best place for us to bat is No.3, for two reasons, one because that's where he plays his best and secondly he's the best No.3 we've got,” Nielsen said.

“It was only a month ago that he got three 70s in a row in India and got run out twice, so he's finding ways of getting out.”

Uncapped New South Wales batsman Usman Khawaja has been placed on standby in case Ponting cannot play but chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch said he was confident the captain would be fit.

The 24-year-old left-hander was also on standby when Michael Clarke was in doubt for the first test with a sore back.

“While the NSP (National Selection Panel) are confident Ricky Ponting will be available for the Boxing Day test, through an abundance of caution we have named Usman Khawaja as the standby player,” Hilditch said.

“Usman richly deserves this opportunity following his excellent form at domestic level last season and continuing on this season.”