Embattled England made four changes on Saturday for the crunch Boxing Day Test in a bid to keep the Ashes alive, while Australia handed experienced seamer Scott Boland a surprise debut.
Joe Root’s team must win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of an expected 70,000 fans to stay in the hunt after heavy defeats in the first two Tests at Brisbane and Adelaide and with three still to play.
Those losses were characterised by batting collapses compounded by poor bowling and fielding with the visitors looking to stop the rot by shaking up the team.
Zak Crawley was recalled for the first time since March to replace struggling opener Rory Burns, despite averaging just 28.34 from his 15 Tests.
Veteran Jonny Bairstow, meanwhile, will add to his 78 Tests when he takes over at number six from youngster Ollie Pope, who has failed to adapt to the Australian conditions.
England also mixed up the bowling unit again with speedster Mark Wood returning after being rested for their 275-run defeat in Adelaide, which followed a nine wicket thrashing in Brisbane.
Off-spinner Jack Leach also gets another chance after being axed for the second Test despite the Adelaide pitch having plenty in it for the slow bowlers.
Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad were overlooked in an attack that will be led by veteran quick Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson.
“It’s a massive game for us, but it’s a brilliant venue to play cricket at. Everyone is very excited to be here in what I’m sure will be a hostile environment,” said wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, who keeps the gloves despite Bairstow’s return.
“We know we need to bring our best cricket, we haven’t brought that so far and that’s disappointing.
“The reaction (after Adelaide) has been an honest one,” he added. “We have a really tight-knit group, some great mates in there, but we had some honest conversations as well.”
Australia are bolstered by the return of captain Pat Cummins, who missed the second Test after being a close contact of a Covid-19 case. He replaces Michael Neser.
But, as expected, fellow pace spearhead Josh Hazlewood will again miss out as he continues to recover from a side strain.
Jhye Richardson, who took five wickets in England’s second innings at Adelaide, is still sore from his efforts with Boland replacing him to become the third Australian debutant this series after Neser and Alex Carey.
In doing so, he also becomes the first Indigenous man to play Test cricket for Australia since Jason Gillespie.
“He was pretty sore,” Cummins told reporters of Richardson, adding that he also had a minor leg injury.
“We were umming and ahhing –- he had a bowl yesterday but we thought seven days off (before the fourth Test in Sydney) will kind of give him enough rest.”
Boland will play on his home ground, where he has taken 91 wickets at 25.71 in 26 first-class games, often on unresponsive pitches.
Cummins said his record at the Melbourne Cricket Ground factored into their thinking.
“It was a huge part of it. His record speaks for itself here in domestic cricket,” he said.
“Home ground, having someone fresh like him who can perform straightaway were the big factors.”
Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (capt), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach, Jimmy Anderson
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (capt), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland