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The mystique of the Ashes will ensure large crowds pour into the Sydney Cricket Ground for the final Test match of the summer, despite the urn already being reclaimed by Australia in Perth before Christmas.

The avarice of administrators has compressed the scheduling of Test matches and is even exerting pressure to shorten the matches themselves to four days.

Cricket Australia is fortunate that the players and the public are still true believers in this format, despite both being treated as guileless cash cows.

What else but the mystique of the Ashes can explain Mitchell Starc's determination to prove his fitness and play the final fixture of a dead rubber?

Granted he is great competitor, acutely conscious of his duty as the leader of this three-pronged pace attack. But one cannot imagine his risking a tour of South Africa to play against Sri Lanka or New Zealand if the series did not hinge on his contribution.

Likewise, the first two days are sold out. Since the advent of the modern schedule, whereby Sydney generally hosts the final Test match immediately after it ushers in the new year with one of the world's most spectacular fireworks displays, this fixture has become a major part of Sydney's social calendar.

Last year the crowds were disappointing. But the first Test of the new year, and the last of this summer, is one of the hottest tickets in town among the power elite. And the long-suffering public also turn out in droves despite increasingly intrusive and mirthless security and steep ticket prices.

Captains, selectors at odds on how wicket will perform

At least in Sydney they will not have to endure a surface that seemed to have been prepared for a timeless Test. Unless the weather intervenes, I expect a result in this match.

The wicket should offer the bowlers much more than Melbourne's, though the captains and selectors seem to have drawn polar opposite conclusions as to how it will perform.

Steve Smith stated at his news conference he had seen abundant grass on the deck. Consequently, Australia has chosen only one specialist spinner and reassembled the pace trio which terrorised England in the decisive phase of the rubber.

Conversely, England apparently expect sufficient assistance to spinners to warrant the selection of Mason Crane — a Hampshire leg-spinner with a moderate first class bowling average of 43.98.

Moeen Ali trudges off at the MCG

What Yorkshire's Adil Rashid lacks, that Crane possesses eludes me. Perhaps Joe Root was merely making virtue of necessity. Perhaps he believes the myth that Sydney is a paradise for spinners. The comparative cost exacted from seamers and spinners actually suggest otherwise.

In any event, I suspect England would have dropped Moeen Ali, whose returns with both bat and ball would have been negligible had all their bowlers been fit.

His three wickets in four matches have been too expensive. Nor has he closed down an end to allow his skipper to rest the seamers. In Melbourne, Root clearly lost confidence in Ali, preferring the part-time leg-spin of Dawid Malan and even bowling himself.

But injury to Chris Woakes ensured England was obliged to select Crane and persevere with Ali. How long they continue to bat Ali at number eight while his bowling is so innocuous is a troubling question for the England selectors. It will require resolution before their home summer.

Crane thus becomes the youngest specialist spinner to debut for England in 90 years. Halley's Comet turns up more often than that. If rarity is the hallmark of genius then he has time to eclipse another leg spinning prodigy who made his debut on the same ground almost 25 year ago to the day.

That, of course, was Shane Warne who made an inauspicious debut taking 1-150, offering little hint of the epic career that lay ahead. He restored the almost extinct craft of leg-spin to pre-eminence in all formats of the game.

Smith set to continue in dominant form

History may offer some other encouragement to tourists. Only England has defeated Australia in the last 20 years, winning here in 2003 and 2011.

Steve Smith made a decent half-century in that latter match, in which Usman Khawaja made his debut for Australia. Khawaja scored the most talked about 37 in the history of cricket.

You could have named your own price on the wager that the batsman being compared to Donald Bradman in 2018 would be Smith rather than Khawaja.

Usman Khawaja plays a pull shot.

The Australian Captain goes into this match having already scored 604 runs in this series. Other than the Don and England's David Gower, no other skipper has been as lucrative during an Ashes series.

In his current form it is quite conceivable Smith could surpass Bradman's 680 scored in 1946-47 and even Gower's 732 in 1985.

Bradman's 810 in 1936-37 would require Smith to score another double century.

It will be intriguing to see his first Test innings for 2018 in the wake of topping the Test aggregates in 2017. If you are willing to bet against Smith in his current form then you are braver than I.

Khawaja may not quite have exhausted the patience of selectors but he badly needs runs in this match. So does Cameron Bancroft who has compiled three laborious scores in the 20s since a promising 82 on debut at the Gabba.

As Matthew Renshaw and Nic Maddinson can attest, neither predictability nor patience are the defining attributes of the current Australian selection panel.

All these individual trials conspire to breathe life into an otherwise dead contest. It has been an absorbing series, though one for the purists rather than the casual observer. Australia has deservedly prevailed. But false comfort should not be drawn from this triumph.

The opposition has been modest and the victory, while conclusive, leaves Australia outside the top four Test-playing nations.

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