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England in for another torrid time from merciless Australians

Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris will go easy on England’s struggling batsmen. Close fielders will sympathetically reassure Kevin Pietersen that Graeme Swann wasn’t talking about him when he spoke of “arrogant players up their own backsides.” Meanwhile, in Bay 13, sober, respectful fans will be eating their mince pies rather than chucking them at fielders on the boundary…

Aw, it was all a Christmas dream. If England, the Ashes already gone and 3-0 down, are expecting any respite from Australia, they can forget it. The Baggy Greens are going for the throat and a 5-0 whitewash (13/8 with Coral).

The MCG is an intimidating venue at the best of times and as the Fourth Test gets under way on Boxing Day (late Christmas Day over here) Alastair Cook and his men will feel as nervous as Christians in the Colosseum. This will be as tough as it gets for a team already down on their knees.

Those anticipating an England backlash have been rocked by more depressing news from down under. The retiring, but not so shy Swann, not satisfied with quitting mid-tour, also chose the moment to bad-mouth unidentified individual(s) and didn’t mention at the time that he wasn’t talking about his former dressing room colleagues.

Morale was bad enough, now it’s pretty near rock bottom and there are rumours of other England stalwarts crying enough in the coming weeks.

In these circumstances, 8/11 Australia to win the Melbourne test looks a really good bet; certainly I can’t imagine anybody rushing to take 100/30 England.

Coach Andy Flower, another whose future is in doubt after this tour, will perhaps take encouragement from the last time England played at the MCG in 2010 when they skittled the Baggy Greens out by mid-afternoon and then knocked them around the park before winning by an innings and 157 runs.

But that was then and this is now. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if Harris doesn’t get you, Johnson must. If England can manage a draw this time (11/4) in a match unlikely to be curtailed by the weather, it will be something to celebrate.

Monty Panesar, who was bowling better than Swann anyway once he was given a chance, is likely to take over spin duties for the remainder of the series, although England have called up James Tredwell and Scott Borthwick as cover.

And with Jonny Bairstow likely to replace the desperately disappointing Matt Prior behind the stumps and the highly promising Gary Ballance waiting in the wings to be given his chance in the middle order alongside Ben Stokes, we may now be given a glimpse of the next chapter in English Test cricket as the old guard gradually make way for the new.

Stokes, so impressive in Perth, is 6/1 to top score for England in the first innings, while Panesar is 4/1 to take most wickets. But Flower and Cook need everyone to step up to the plate.