ASHES: ENGLAND SET TO KEEP IAN BELL AT SIX IN MELBOURNE
Melbourne prepares for Boxing Day showdown
Ian Bell looks set to stay at six in England's batting order for the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne on Boxing Day.
The in-form batsman has been tipped to move up the order to five, with Paul Collingwood struggling for runs.
But England captain Andrew Strauss said: “I'm not going to 100% rule it out, but I'd be surprised if we went down that route.”
Meanwhile, James Anderson showed no signs of suffering with a side strain as he took part in training on Friday.
The paceman had not bowled since England's 267-run defeat in the third Test at Perth http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/cricket/england/9302392 last week after complaining of soreness down his side.
However, the 28-year-old bowled an hour-long spell in a net session, giving England a huge boost two days before the crucial match against Australia.
“Jimmy seems absolutely fine,” said Strauss. “He's done quite a lot of bowling, but it [side strain] has settled down nicely.”
With 200 wickets in 55 Test matches, Anderson is key to England's hopes of regaining their lead in the five-match series at the MCG, which is set to host 90,000 people for the traditional Boxing Day encounter.
However, the fate of his his new-ball partner in Perth, Steve Finn, is less assured.
Although the 21-year-old has taken 19 wickets in the series – one less than leading wicket-taker Graeme Swann – he has conceded 3.96 runs an over, in comparison with Anderson's frugal 2.95.
The Middlesex seamer complained of sore calves after Perth, prompting speculation that he could be dropped for either Tim Bresnan or Ajmal Shahzad in Melbourne.
However, Strauss insisted Finn is fully fit to play at the MCG.
“There was a little bit of weariness after that Test, but no cause for concern in terms of fitness for this one,” Strauss said of Finn.
“I think he's been a little frustrated that he hasn't been as consistent as he would like.
“Last summer in England, his lengths were very good consistently – and maybe he has not done that on this tour.
“But he is a bowler with a knack of taking wickets, which is a great skill to have. Every match he plays he is learning about bowling in Australia. The vast majority of what he has done on this tour, I've been very happy with – and I expect him to continue getting better.”
While Bell has been in excellent touch during the tour – his first-innings 53 in the defeat in Perth was his fourth successive Test half-century – Collingwood has continued to struggle batting at five.
Vaughan rips into Aussie top order
The 34-year-old has gone 10 innings since his last Test half-century, against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in July.
But England look set to resist the temptation to alter the batting line-up, although Bell remained sanguine about talk of a promotion.
“Whether it happens or not is irrelevant for this series, as long as we're winning the next two Tests,” said the Warwickshire batsman.
“That's the most important thing to me, contributing to this team winning the Ashes.
“I think we've played some very good cricket since we've been here. We had a blip in Perth – we knew Australia at some point would play some great cricket and have some great individual performances.
“We've had a good opportunity to have a sit down and talk about what happened in Perth… in Melbourne, I'm sure we can put right what went wrong.”
Team-mate Kevin Pietersen said England will be more prepared for Australia's swing bowling after Mitchell Johnson took nine wickets in Perth.
“I just don't think we prepared for it,” Pietersen told BBC Radio 5 live. “The ball swings in England in summer so swing bowling's not a problem.
“We didn't bat as well as we could have [in Perth] – we understand the reasons and a had good thrash in the team meeting about the reasons,” he said.
“We've come to grips with that and will be a lot better prepared come Melbourne. We've had great success against swing bowlers in the past.”
Pietersen also defended the under-fire Collingwood, saying: “We support players who are not going through the best of times, because it happens to us all.
“We all know Colly's someone who, when his back is up against the wall, scores runs. I'll be very surprised if we're not 100-3 this week and he gets us a big hundred and in a really good position – I've seen it so many times before.”
Meanwhile, the curator at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has hinted England will have nothing to fear from his pitch.
Cameron Hodgkins says he has had no directive from Cricket Australia on what type of surface to prepare for the match – and that it should pose fewer problems than the Waca did in Perth.
“[The MCG] is more a wicket that offers a little bit up front and is quite flat towards the end of the match,” he told BBC Sport.
“On the Waca's worst day they'd still be faster and bouncier than anything that we'd turn out.
“We traditionally are quite slow on the first day, normally, and that probably causes the most difficulty for batsmen who want to get on with it.
“So patience is normally a key ingredient here. If you don't have that you can be four or five down early on, and the game's over.”
England have been boosted by the news that bowler James Anderson is expected to be fit for Melbourne, despite feeling stiffness in his side after the match in Perth. England (from): AJ Strauss (captain), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, IR Bell, MJ Prior (wkt), GP Swann, TT Bresnan, CT Tremlett, JM Anderson, A Shahzad, ST Finn.
Australia (from): RT Ponting (captain), PJ Hughes, SR Watson, MJ Clarke, MEK Hussey, SPD Smith, BJ Haddin (wkt), MG Johnson, RJ Harris, BW Hilfenhaus, PM Siddle, MA Beer, UT Khawaja.
Umpires: A Dar (Pkn) and T Hill (NZ)
Third umpire: M Erasmus (SA)
Match referee: R Madugalle (SL)