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Hapless England on the canvas after Boxing Day pounding

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MELBOURNE: England’s earnest dressing-room discussions about improving shot selection failed to bear fruit on Sunday’s opening day of the third Ashes Test, as shambolic batting delivered a Boxing Day feast of wickets for Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground.

England face more honest discussions after they were bowled out for 185 on Sunday. Australia reached 61-1 at stumps.

Leading 2-0 after thumping wins in Brisbane and Adelaide, holders Australia need only a draw in Melbourne to retain the urn.

But Pat Cummins’ men will be hell-bent on taking the series outright before the New Year Test in Sydney.

Joe Root’s England, meanwhile, need a miracle.

Only one team has ever turned around a 2-0 deficit to win the Ashes. That was Don Bradman’s Australia, winning the 1936/37 series 3-2 on home soil.

Admittedly England, humiliated in a 275-run defeat in Adelaide, faced a tough task to bounce back on Sunday. Australia captain Cummins won the toss and invited under-siege England to bat first on a green-tinged, seaming MCG pitch.

England were 61-3 at lunch. By tea, the tourists were 128-6, having lost the key wicket of skipper Root for 50.

Englands resistance with the bat lasted just 65.1 overs. World’s top-ranked bowler Cummins (3-36), spinner Nathan Lyon (3-36) and left-arm quick Mitchell Starc (2-54) combined to keep the pressure on Englands batters.

A loose shot outside off stump by Root, a questionable cut by Ben Stokes, and a wild heave by Jos Buttler will attract heavy attention from English press after another difficult day for the tourists.

Johnny Bairstow, who scored 35, said Australia were handed a huge advantage by winning the toss. But he conceded England’s batters needed to improve.

“Both teams were looking to bowl first. It was overcast with the weather conditions this morning and the pitch was green,” Bairstow said. “Yes, we’re still looking for that big score.

“We’ve got to get a bit stronger and tougher with our dismissals. We spoke about that. That’s just being honest with ourselves.

“But we’ve seen that the pitch offered plenty [for the bowlers] today and hopefully we turn up in the morning and put pressure on to get some early inroads.”

Asked if he was disappointed with the shot selection of Buttler and Stokes, Bairstow said players were instructed to play their natural games.

“Naturally the execution of those [shots] wasn’t there today. They and we will look back on [those shots] and probably reassess next time,” Bairstow said.

After batting collapses and poor bowling in the first two Tests, Root read his players the riot act — seemingly to little effect.

Rain delayed the start of play for 30 minutes before Cummins ripped through England’s top order on his return to the team after being ruled out for the second Test at Adelaide due to being a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case.

England’s rejigged opening partnership of Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed lasted 12 balls before Cummins had Hameed caught behind for a duck.

Crawley, who replaced Rory Burns, managed 12 before edging Cummins straight to Green at gully.

The Australia skipper bagged his third wicket in the last over before lunch, with Dawid Malan (14) edging to the slips to break a budding 48-run partnership with Root.

Australia claimed another three wickets in the middle session, dismissing the dangerous duo of Root and Stokes (25). The departure of Buttler for three, after aiming a wild slog to deep mid-wicket off the bowling of Lyon in the last over before tea, summed up England’s struggles against Australia’s disciplined bowling.

Root added to his side’s woes outside off stump by offering a catch to wicket-keeper Alex Carey off the bowling of Mitchell Starc at 82-4.

Stokes tried to lift Englands scoring rate by launching into an aggressive cut shot off the bowling of Cameron Green, but the left-hander was caught at gully at 115-5.

Debutant Scott Boland, playing at his home-state ground, claimed his first Test wicket by trapping Mark Wood leg before to the delight of the 57,100 fans at the MCG.

Bairstow battled for his 35 before going on the offensive in the search for quick runs as his batting partners dwindled.

He was out trying to duck a venomous Starc delivery that caught his bat and looped to gully, where Green dived forward to take a terrific catch.

Lyon removed tailenders Jack Leach (13) and Ollie Robinson (22).

David Warner and Marcus Harris (20 not out) shared an opening stand of 57 for Australia. Warner was caught at gully off the bowling of Jimmy Anderson for 38.

Harris required medical attention during the following over after being struck on the hand by a bouncer from Stokes, but survived to the end of play with nightwatchman Lyon to leave the hosts in the ascendancy again this series.

Boland, who is only the second Indigenous player to represent Australia’s Test side after Jason Gillespie, said Australia’s bowlers worked hard to make England’s batters play.

“We tried to keep it really full in the first session, Boland said. “Their batters were pretty conscious about trying to leave the ball so we tried to keep attacking them as much as we could and we were judging ourselves on how much we could make them play.

“As a bowling group we know we are not going to give up any soft overs. You need to take 20 wickets to win the game and that’s our motive. It’s a great attack to be a part of.”


ENGLAND (1st innings):

H. Hameed c Carey b Cummins 0

Z. Crawley c Green b Cummins 12

D. Malan c Warner b Cummins 14

J. Root c Carey b Starc 50

B. Stokes c Lyon b Green 25

J. Bairstow c Green b Starc 3

J. Buttler c Boland b Lyon 3

M. Wood lbw b Boland 6

O. Robinson c Boland b Lyon 22

J. Leach c Smith b Lyon 13

J. Anderson not out 0

EXTRAS (LB-4, NB-1) 5

TOTAL (all out; 65.1 overs) 185

FALL OF WICKETS: 1-4 (Hameed), 2-13 (Crawley), 3-61 (Malan), 4-82 (Root), 5-115 (Stokes), 6-128 (Buttler), 7-141 (Wood), 8-159 (Bairstow), 9-176 (Leach).

BOWLING: Starc 14-3-45-2, Cummins 15-2-36-3, Boland 13-2-48-1, Green 8-4-7-1, Lyon 14.1-3-36-3.

AUSTRALIA (1st innings):

M. Harris not out 20

D. Warner c Crawley b Anderson 38

N. Lyon not out 0

EXTRAS (LB-1, NB-2) 3

TOTAL (for one wkt; 16 overs) 61

FALL OF WICKET: 1-57 (Warner).

BOWLING (to-date): Anderson 5-1-14-1, Robinson 5-0-23-0, Wood 4-0-15-0, Stokes 2-0-8-0.

TO BAT: M. Labuschagne, S. Smith, T. Head, C. Green, A. Carey, P. Cummins, M. Starc, S. Boland

UMPIRES: Paul Wilson and Paul Reiffel (both Australia).

TV UMPIRE: Rod Tucker (Australia).

MATCH REFEREE: David Boon (Australia).

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2021

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