Sport

Ashes 2017-18: Red letter Test looms for Steve Smith with Australia to go full throttle at SCG

 The door is wide open for Steve Smith to finish a golden Test summer in the company of Don Bradman as Australia aim to collect the urn in style in Sydney.

Their hopes for a whitewash are gone but the hosts are going all out at England, bringing back pace ace Mitchell Starc as part of a full-strength attack for the Ashes finale.

Australian captain Steve Smith is looking for a big finish. Photo: A

England, however, have lost seamer Chris Woakes to a side strain, leaving them with an attack containing a debutant, Mason Crane, a second-gamer, Tim Curran, and a horribly out-of-form spinner, Moeen Ali. Much will rest on the shoulders of veteran duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who sent down 59 and 52 overs respectively on the infamous MCG pitch.

The situation could not be better set up for Smith to deliver Joe Root's men one for the road and join Bradman as the only Australian to have scored four centuries in an Ashes series.

"I wasn't aware, that would be nice, it'd be a good way to end the series," Smith said on Wednesday.

Smith's home Test is shaping as a red-letter one for him. The captain, who will lift the replica urn at match end, is 26 runs away from being the fastest Australian to 6000 runs, behind Bradman.

He is 96 short of joining Bradman and Mark Taylor as the only Australians to score 700 runs in an Ashes series, the latter doing it in a six-Test series where he batted twice every match.

Smith is nursing a stiff back but batted in the nets at training. He'll have plenty more time at the crease if his form holds.

"For me it's just ensuring I don't get too far ahead of myself. If you walk out there and expect you're going to get runs the game can bite you pretty quickly," Smith said.

"It's just ensuring I'm hungry each time I go to the middle, start really well, do my basics really well, have my routines that I go through and don't get too far ahead of myself because it comes back to bite your pretty quickly when you do that.

"It's been a good one, personally for me but for the team as well. We've played some really good cricket, it'd be great to end this series with a 4-0 win but we've still got a hard five days in front of us."

Whatever the bowlers confront in Sydney is unlikely to be as difficult as their ordeal in Melbourne, with the SCG deck sporting a tinge of green on match eve and expected to offer turn late.

The grass coverage was enough for Australia to opt against deploying spin twins for a third year in a row, which means Ashton Agar's wait to play a Test on home soil stretches into next season.

Starc comes in for Jackson Bird confident he has sufficiently recovered from a bruised heel. Smith is backing his bowler's judgment though the conservative decision would have been for him to sit out and focus on the series in South Africa.

"Make sure you're completely fit and don't be doing further damage," Smith said when asked what his line would be if the call was exclusively his.

"So that was the conversation I had after the Perth Test match – we've wrapped up the series which is great and we want to continue winning, that's important, but you're a key member of our line-up and don't do further damage because we need you in South Africa.

"I think the break he's had from bowling has helped his heel heal. It's coming along nicely so he's confident and you've also got to take the player's word sometimes."

England took the safe option with Woakes, whose injury is the same as that he suffered in their season.

"More than anything it is making sure he is not out for a significant period of time like he was throughout the summer," Root said.