Fourth Test, day three (stumps): Australia (98 & 169-6) trail England (513) by 246 runs.
A third great day in a row to live long in the memory for the rest of the winter, and this one in beautiful sunshine. England, led this time by Tim Bresnan, powered to the verge of their second innings victory of this series with more brilliant cricket that ensured the Ashes will remain in their keeping.
Two days remain for England to finish off Australia’s last four wickets, and the rain which has flooded much of eastern Australia is not due to hit Melbourne. But Australia’s cricket team are sinking fast, captain Ricky Ponting and all.
England added only 69 runs to their overnight total for the loss of their last five wickets, which might not seem like a great return for a morning’s work. But it allowed Jonathan Trott to have his fill, and inflicted more wear and tear – not so much on the Australian players (they were hurting already), but on the pitch.
Dry, abrasive and increasingly uneven during Australia’s second innings, the pitch allowed England’s pace bowlers to practise their reverse-swing once the shine had gone from one side. James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Bresnan had bowled superb, conventional swing to dismiss Australia for 98, then they reverse-swung every bit as well to prompt further feebleness.
The only time England have not been mightily impressive in the field in this match was in the first hour of Australia’s second innings when their fielding, by their standards, was shabby – although Bresnan more than made up for his initial fumble – while Anderson and Tremlett could find no conventional swing and were driven.
Swann was, therefore, brought on early, for the 10th over, after Australia’s opening pair had raced to 49. And the game thereafter did not turn: it was more like England twisting a knife in Australia’s guts.
Trott carried on from where he had left off with the bat. He had come in at 159 for one wicket and batted right through to the end of England’s 513. He did not accelerate: he played at his own sweet pace throughout at around 50 runs per 100 balls, come cloud, wind or shine. He took his stand with Matt Prior – already England’s best for the sixth wicket at the MCG – to 173.
Then Trott swooped at cover and ran out Phil Hughes. Poor Hughes had, for once, got a start: he was at least looking the part even if he is not a Test opener. Then Watson pushed Swann for a single, and Trott reacted with rapidity, not as if he had just been batting for more than a day.
The difference between the sides in fielding has been as great as in batting and spin bowling. This was England’s third run-out of the series (and Trott’s second) to Australia’s none. And kudos to Matt Prior, too, for taking the ball in front of the stumps, thus saving crucial milliseconds, while standing behind them.
Watson, by scoring fifties as an opening batsman without going on to a hundred, saves Australia from being a bad team but stops them from being a good one. This time he was completely deceived after tea by Bresnan, who set him up with away-swing then swung one back. It was like playing for a legbreak and getting a googly: Watson was given lbw in the act of shouldering arms.
Would Ricky Ponting have scored a century yesterday if he had been the player of his prime? The conditions were demanding in the extreme: a bit of Swann, and a lot of reverse-swing from Anderson and Bresnan. Anderson mostly swung it away from Ponting, but Bresnan brought it back in: although it was an inside-edge there was little bad luck about the dismissal.
Mike Hussey, the bulwark of Australia’s batting through this series, was dismissed cheaply a second time. The short extra-cover, Ian Bell, might have been placed there simply to stop Hussey taking quick singles to get up and running, but he did more than that: he caught Hussey off a low half-drive.
The MCG can claim to have been the spiritual home of Australian cricket. For certain, Bay 13 was the stand which generated the loudest support for the home side, and the loudest abuse for the visitors. But so much has changed here, on and off the field, that what used to be Bay 13 was yesterday a huge section of the Great Southern Stand populated by singing England supporters.
They knew how to twist a knife just as much as England’s players. ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning!’ the Barmy Army sang when Ponting came out to bat. And after he had fought to 20 off 73 balls, they allowed him to leave the field before resuming their refrain – although his deposing probably won’t happen as the series is still alive and Michael Clarke is in no fit state to assume the captaincy.
Swann gained overdue reward – Prior had missed a stumping when Clarke had made two – by having Clarke caught at second slip, or gully, when he switched to round the wicket.
With Ryan Harris an invalid after suffering a stress fracture in his left ankle, Australia only just held on until the end of the third day, utterly beaten in every respect except the result.
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This post was submitted by Mudit Agrawal.
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