Australia coach Darren Lehmann has effectively abandoned hopes of another Ashes whitewash and leapt to the defence of paceman Jackson Bird after England dominated day three of the Boxing Day Test.
Alastair Cook’s masterful double century on Thursday guided the tourists to a 164-run advantage at stumps on day three and Lehmann has all but conceded that England are the only team capable of winning the match.
With some rain forecast over the next two days, the coach believes his side would effectively have to score at five runs an over on day four to have any hope of setting up the game for an Australian victory.
"We're a 164 runs behind, we'll have to get 450 in a day," Lehmann said.
"How do you want us to do that? Slog?
"We've got to worry about getting past them first and batting well. That's the first challenge and a different challenge for the group, which is great.
"We'll hopefully bat through the day and re-assess after tomorrow, that's all we can do. England scored reasonably quickly, but you'd think we're not going to score as quickly as that.
"We certainly didn't go into the game looking that far ahead (at a whitewash). You only concentrate on this game."
In the absence of the injured Mitchell Starc, Bird has sent down 30 wicketless overs in his first Test match in 12 months and was targeted by the buoyant Barmy Army late in the day, who revived their famous "he bowls to the left, he bowls to the right" chant used to torment Mitchell Johnson here eight years ago.
Bird took the unwanted attention in good humour, much to the appreciation of the English supporters, and Lehmann said a lifeless MCG surface didn't help the Tasmanian's cause.
"I thought he bowled good spells at times but was a bit wayward at other times," he said.
"That's the pressure when you're coming back into the game and you're trying to get wickets. On other occasions he was very good.
"It's always tough to get wickets on those types of tracks. You've got to have some air speed and some control. He'll be better for the run."
Lehmann remains hopeful Starc will be fit to return for the final Test in Sydney and a second frontline spinner could also come into calculations at a venue where Australia have fielded a dual spin attack in the past two years.
After just 19 wickets fell over the first three days of the match, the playing surface at the MCG has come under the microscope at a venue that has hosted three drawn JLT Sheffield Shield games out of three so far this season.
The MCG has had a drop-in pitch for almost two decades and while other venues, notably Adelaide Oval, have been able to produce drop-in surfaces that provide entertaining cricket, this pitch have offered little encouragement for bowlers on both sides.
England quick Jimmy Anderson said after day one that the pitch produced cricket that "wasn't exciting to watch (and) wasn't exciting to play in" while the surface has been slammed by commentators during the match.
"We would have liked a little bit more bounce in the track, I think both sides would have," Lehmann said. "Jimmy said the same thing.
"The wicket is pretty good and doesn't break up here so it's going to be pretty good for five days.
"(All around Australia) I would like fast and bouncy tracks that go through day in, day out. That'd be lovely. We don't get it when we're at home and we've got to accept that.
"Adelaide has just got it right, with a day night Test they keep the grass a little bit longer. It's a little bit flatter (at the MCG) ... it may well break up, let’s wait and see on day four and day five."
There has been just one drawn Test at the MCG since they introduced a drop-in pitch in the late 1990s.
Australia XI: Steve Smith (c), David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England XI: Joe Root (c), Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
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Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
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Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
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Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21src="https://www.cricket.com.au/~/media/News/2017/08/9Ashes-updated.ashx?la=en" />