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Cricket crunch time -

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Big crowds are expected for the first day of the fourth test between England and Australia at the
MCG on Boxing Day.


HEATHER EWART, PRESENTER: It looks like the house full sign will be up for the first day of the
fourth Test between Australia and England at the MCG on Boxing Day and crowd numbers could well
break the world record of just over 90,000.

The set up for the match couldn't be better scripted with the series poised at 1 all in time for
one of the most prestigious events on the sporting calendar.

Mary Gearin reports from Melbourne.

MARY GEARIN, REPORTER: Test cricket is back in town. Rarely has there been such a heady competition
of sport and drama, historical significance and commercial opportunity and both fans and
authorities are loving it.

those people and with so much to play for, will be akin to anything that Lords itself has to offer
and I'm really excited about it.

JAMES SUTHERLAND, CEO, CRICKET AUSTRALIA: A lot more excited than I was a week ago. Day one
attendance could break the world record for the highest ever attendance for a Test match anywhere
in the world.

GIDEON HAIGH, CRICKET HISTORIAN: We simply do not know what is going to happen over the next five
days. And that's exactly the way in which Test cricket should be.

CRICKET COMMENTATOR: There's another shout! Can he get another one? He does!

MARY GEARIN: Australia's stirring win in Perth sparked by a stunning six wicket haul by the
revitalized Mitchell Johnson has added an extra layer of anticipation to an event that is already
special and even sacrosanct.

GIDEON HAIGH: Boxing Day Test in Australia has almost become shorthand for tradition. It's the...
that and the New Years Test are regarded... as you know, as long as they are sacred then somehow
cricket's soul has been saved from the degradations of Twenty20.

STEPHEN BRENKLEY: Quite often the Boxing Day Test matches have been the second match in an Ashes
series in the old days when England used to be here for six months and there were weeks and weeks
between Test matches, but this is you know the fourth Test of five. That enhances its status.

MARY GEARIN: Melbourne Tests starting on Boxing Day were only locked in from the early '80s but
from the thrilling drawn Test of '74 to the extraordinary day in '81 that saw Kim Hughes smash one
of the all-time best centuries...

CRICKET COMMENTATOR: A magnificent century of Kim Hughes and he raises his arms above his head.

MARY GEARIN: ... And Dennis Lillee claiming Viv Richards off the last ball...

CRICKET COMMENTATOR: He's got him; he's bowled him the last ball of the day.

MARY GEARIN: ... To the last minute defeat of Australia in '98.

CRICKET COMMENTATOR: ... A great win for England at the MCG.

MARY GEARIN: ... Boxing Day has secured an elevated place in cricket history and this coming one
should today the historic annals with an Ashes series as unpredictable as the see-sawing Tests of
2009, despite Australia's current momentum.

GIDEON HAIGH: They talk all the time about momentum but in fact the ascentity fluctuated like a
wrecking ball between the two teams. Both teams took it in turns to wipe the other one out.

And it was almost as though the two teams were too weak to dominate from start to finish.

MARY GEARIN: The Barmy Army fan group is also preparing for one of its biggest matches in its 15 or
so years of existence. Its hardy members were reared in lean cricketing times for England, so they
only got louder as they lost in Perth.

PAUL BURNHAM, CO-FOUNDER BARMY ARMY: To be honest they're the songs we know. The songs when we're
losing they're the ones we're comfortable with. We haven't got too many when we're winning

But we're sitting there clueless a few times, what do we sing now?

MARY GEARIN: They think Australians have a bit to learn about keeping up morale when luck is low.

So what do you think about Australian themes?

DAVE PEACOCK, CO-FOUNDER BARMY ARMY: Yeah poor, absolutely poor.

We've been here since 1994, you've got three songs, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi.

Look at the scoreboard, pommies are wankers - I don't know whether I can say it - but I just have.


DAVE PEACOCK: They haven't evolved.

MARY GEARIN: Whereas on field has Australia evolved into a winning side with the victory in Perth?
Our pundits say probably not.

GIDEON HAIGH: I don't believe that Australia is good enough to continue dominating. It really will
be a case of tit-for-tat this series.

The pitches produced by the drop-in technology have tended to be pretty slow, so it will be
surprising if conditions were as conducive to Mitchell Johnson's genius as they were in Perth.

STEPHEN BRENKLEY: The poms if they're not going to win the Ashes in Australia this time, they may
never win them again. And my view is that um, they can do so, they can prevail against an
Australian side that still lacks vengeance for all Johnson's wonderful prodigiousness in Perth.

MARY GEARIN: But if only for these few days everyone can savor the revival of a series - and
however fleetingly - the revival of Test cricket itself.

STEPHEN BRENKLEY: The harsh truth is that Test cricket for all that it is, the greatest sport known
to man, is not watched by the great public unfortunately. But as sure as eggs are eggs we needed
this series to be close.

There was just the suspicion that Test cricket was falling over a mountain again. And at least this
has dragged it back in almost into (inaudible) so yeah, I am optimistic. This is showing that two
close teams can go out there and slug it out and provide theatre that no other sport can.

GIDEON HAIGH: What you're seeing at the moment is a confirmation that the five Test series is the
best Test series of all. And the supreme test of a player's abilities.

DAVE PEACOCK: What you saw in Perth is Test cricket. You can't just get on the front foot and
bully, it was proper, I loved it actually, although it was Australia giving it to England - that
was what Test cricket is all about.

HEATHER EWART: Mary Gearin reporting from Melbourne.