It’s threatening to become one of ‘those’ Ashes tours. Fragile England capitulated again on the opening day of the crucial Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
Eleven years ago England had their best day down under when they rolled Australia for 98. Those memories would have given the visitors hope knowing they needed to win the third Test to keep the series alive after heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide. But it was another day to forget for the tourists as they were skittled for 185 in front of a 57,000 strong crowd at the G.
Returning Aussie captain Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon both claimed figures of 3/36 to bowl the visitors out before ending the day firmly in command on 61/1.
Cummins, who missed the Adelaide Test to isolate after being a Covid-19 close contact, won the toss in testing conditions and unleashed his bowlers on the greenest MCG pitch in recent memory.
A lot of the pre-match talk from the English camp revolved around the batters sitting in crisis meetings rewatching their dismissals from the opening two Tests. There were some harsh words dished out by skipper Joe Root and Ben Stokes.
England fans were desperate for something to click as they stayed up on Christmas night hoping for a miracle to force their way back into the series. But it was a case of here we go again as the batters gifted Australia’s bowlers some belated presents.
The visitors have failed to land any early blows during the series. One good early session to settle the nerves and get into the game. Show some fight when it matters, not when you have already given yourselves a mountain to climb. But England continue to spiral to new depths of despair.
Any brief glimmers of hope have been short-lived and come with Chris Silverwood’s side firmly on the back foot from the hosts’ tireless bowling attack and the blades of David Warner, Marnus Labuschange, Steve Smith and Travis Head.
Burns was dropped despite looking more assured during his battling 34 in the second innings in Adelaide. Zak Crawley, who averaged just 11 in Tests this year heading into the game, was one of four changes as Jonny Bairstow came in for Ollie Pope at six, whilst Mark Wood and Jack Leach replaced Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad.
Cummins bowled beautifully with the new ball and needed just five balls to have Haseeb Hameed caught behind for England’s 50th Test duck of the year. He then squared Crawley up to be caught at gully for 12 to leave the visitors 13/2. And he returned on the stroke of lunch to nick David Malan off.
As well as Cummins bowled in favourable conditions in the first session, England orchestrated their own downfall in the second as they got started before giving it away. Root’s frustration after chasing a wide one on 50 summed up his career down under as another chance for his first away Ashes hundred went begging.
The experienced trio of Root, Ben Stokes and especially Jos Buttler gave their wickets away softly. It was inexcusable after “brutally honest” talks after Adelaide. The sorry same old story – it’s just not good enough.
Stokes was positive, but looked ugly as he cut Cameron Green to point. But Buttler, who was heavily praised for his heroic effort trying to save the second Test on the final day, was the worst of the lost as he ran at Lyon and lobbed an easy catch to deep square leg for three just before tea.
The returning Bairstow looked good and played some lovely shots in his 35 before fending a Mitchell Starc short ball to the diving Green at gully. Some lower-order hitting from Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach got England to 185 – but it’s big first-innings runs that win you games and they have made over 400 just three times this year. It’s the 12th time this year they have been bowled out for under 200. It’s a habit of failure.
Australia looked set to get to stumps unscathed on another thoroughly dominant day. Mark Wood threatened with his extra pace. But it was James Anderson who returned to dismiss David Warner, fending to gully, for 38 with the first ball of his second spell. Marcus Harris is 20 not out overnight alongside nightwatchman Lyon who is yet to get off the mark.
*18+ | BeGambleAware