Ashes: Australia rip into frail England batting with four late wickets in Boxing Day test
Australia have ripped through England’s brittle top-order yet again to regain full control of the Boxing Day test after 13 wickets tumbled on a dramatic day at the MCG.
Mitchell Starc (2-11) narrowly missed out on a hat-trick after he produced a stunning spell late on Monday to put Australia in reach of taking an unassailable 3-0 advantage and wrapping up the Ashes in record time.
After England’s bowlers produced a gritty comeback to knock the hosts over for 267, their batters again had no answers to Australia’s supreme pace attack.
The tourists slumped to 4-31 at stumps on day two, still requiring another 51 runs to make Australia bat again.
Debutant Scott Boland (2-1) backed up Starc’s heroics by taking the wickets of opener Haseeb Hameed and nightwatchman Jack Leach in the penultimate over.
Star all-rounder Ben Stokes had to come out and survive a painful five-minute period before stumps.
Starc had the Melbourne crowd of 42,626 rocking when he cleaned up Zak Crawley and stoic No 3 Dawid Malan in consecutive balls.
Joe Root was left to face the hat-trick ball, which the England captain just avoided edging to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
Irrepressible veteran Jimmy Anderson (4-33 from 23 overs) put in one of his best performances on Australian soil to give England an outside chance of keeping the series alive heading to Sydney.
Australia’s first-innings lead of 82 paled in comparison to the first two tests when they were 278 and 237 runs ahead respectively to effectively end any possibility of an interesting contest.
The MCG pitch is already tricky to bat on, so Australia could become nervous with even a modest fourth-innings chase, but that is now a remote possibility.
Embattled opener Marcus Harris’ 76 top-scored as Australia had trouble batting in response to England’s first-innings total of 185.
After entering the match playing for his spot, Harris posted the third half-century – and the first since January 2019 – of his 13-test career.
The 29-year-old rode his luck during the 189-ball stay, rarely looking at ease.
Harris was given out lbw off Stokes before lunch.
But Harris successfully reviewed the decision, with Snicko indicating a slight edge before the ball hit the Victorian’s pads.
In a frank exchange with Stokes, Harris admitted he was not certain he had hit the ball when he opted to challenge the umpire’s decision.
“I thought it might have clipped both pads and maybe got a little inside edge… hotspot’s f…… hopeless,” Harris told Stokes.
Regardless, the innings will give Australian selectors added faith to persist with the left-hander for the remainder of the Ashes.
After early dramas at England’s team hotel, the embattled tourists have put together arguably their most competitive day of the series.
The team was initially ordered to isolate in their rooms due to a family group member testing positive to Covid-19.
But England’s entire XI quickly returned negative rapid tests and were cleared to head to the ground and take to the field 30 minutes later than scheduled.
Anderson was comfortably the pick of England’s bowlers, but received solid support from Robinson and Mark Wood, who claimed two wickets each.
Star Australia batters Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne both suffered rare failures.
Labuschagne managed just one – the first time he has been out for less than 47 in Australia’s first innings of a test since February 2019.
Smith (16) was dismissed by Anderson for the eighth time in test cricket, as the 39-year-old seamer rattled the stumps of one of Australia’s all-time greats.