|Third Ashes Test, Melbourne (day two of five)|
|England 185 Root 50; Cummins 3-36, Lyon 3-36 & 31-4 Boland 2-1, Starc 2-11|
|Australia 267 Harris 76, Warner 38; Anderson 4-33|
|England trail by 51 runs with six wickets remaining|
England suffered another batting collapse to undo the excellent work of their bowlers as Australia edged closer to winning the Ashes on a emotional second day of the third Test in Melbourne.
James Anderson claimed 4-33 as England fought back admirably in the first two sessions of the day, dismissing Australia for 267, to trail by 82 after the first innings.
But in a hostile final hour on a difficult pitch, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Scott Boland produced a devastating spell of fast bowling as England stumbled to 31-4 at stumps.
Starc had Zak Crawley caught behind and Dawid Malan lbw in consecutive balls to leave England reeling at 7-2.
Haseeb Hameed, who battled to conquer the opening burst from Starc and Cummins, edged behind off debutant Boland.
Jack Leach came in as nightwatchman but was bowled by Boland without offering a shot two balls later.
England captain Joe Root played and missed and saw a associate of edges fall short of the slips but he survived to reach the close on 12 not out and his fifth-wicket partnership with Ben Stokes on day three will be crucial.
However, while another top order failure will take up much of the conversation, this was more a reflection of exceptional, at times unplayable, Australian bowling.
The day had started almost as dramatically as it ended. The England players were forced to wait before travelling to the ground because of positive Covid-19 tests in their travelling party.
Both sets of teams will do PCR tests before the start of the third day’s play on Monday.
A victory, or draw, for Australia will see them retain the Ashes given they rule the best-of-five series 2-0.
Unplayable Australia run riot
England’s batting has come under scrutiny in every innings of the series so far.
But while their first-innings 185 all out was woeful, with several batters gifting their wickets away, Monday’s late collapse was very different.
Starc and Cummins were a gladiatorial presence – the Melbourne Cricket Ground their coliseum.
They had the ball swinging, bouncing and seaming and the inexperienced Hameed and newly-recalled Crawley stood little chance.
It was ruthless, hostile, and often uncomfortable. It was also powerful viewing in front of a raucous Melbourne crowd.
Cummins was unlucky to go wicketless but alongside Starc he built the pressure perfectly to allow the latter to have Crawley caught behind before pinning the Malan lbw with the most marginal of decisions – the ball clipping the bail on top of leg stump on review after he was given out.
Hameed somehow survived. He ducked and dodged and he hung on.
However, the introduction of Boland lifted expectation levels further in the stands and the Victorian, playing on his home ground, rewarded the fans in his only over.
Inspired by Starc and Cummins, the 32-year-old found the exact same nagging line and seam movement to entice Hameed into edging behind before Leach looked utterly baffled as he lost his off stump trying to leave the ball on length.
Root and Stokes have the unenviable task of saving the Test, series and urn when play resumes at 23:30 GMT on Monday.
Anderson leads England fightback
Where would England be without James Anderson?
Their saviour on so many occasions, he produced another masterclass of swing and seam at the MCG to give England a fighting chance.
Such is Anderson’s genius that he managed to extract swing and seam movement already with the ball at nearly 70 overs old.
The wickets of David Warner and Steve Smith would typically be the most crucial in Anderson’s tally, but this time it was under-pressure opener Marcus Harris who provided England with stubborn resistance.
Anderson bowled a exceptional pre-lunch spell of six overs, five maidens with one wicket for just a single run.
Root held his star man back after the lunch break and it proved to be a masterstroke as Anderson, when he did return, plugged away at Harris’ off stump, ultimately enticing a loose excursion that the captain himself gratefully accepted at slip.
After Adelaide, Root said he wanted his bowlers to be braver with their lengths. Anderson did just that, pitching the ball noticeably fuller and enticing false shots with regularity.
The fact he did not end up with another five-wicket haul is exceptional.
Bowlers shine among the chaos
The day concluded in such emotional fact it would be easy to forget that England’s bowlers put in a superb shift for most of the day to engineer a comparatively comfortable position by the end of Australia’s innings.
It may have taken three Tests but England finally seem to have chosen the right bowling attack.
Anderson found some seam and swing, Root held on to three catches at slip, Robinson troubled batters outside off stump and Wood steamed in to consistently reach speeds in excess of 90mph.
And left-arm spinner Jack Leach overcame a quiet start to add to his Test wickets tally, despite some questionable fields and bowling spell timings from his skipper Root.
But, given the context of a low-scoring game, the 48 runs additional by Cummins, Starc and Boland for the final two wickets may prove every bit as crucial as their later contribution with the ball in hand.
‘Test cricket at its absolute best’ – reaction
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special: “England’s bowlers did a fantastic job of getting England back in the game. All they needed and wanted was for England’s batters to stand up. But they didn’t – they fell over again.
“What an hour that was. I’m nevertheless coming down from it. It was Test cricket at its absolute best and brutal.”
Former Australia bowler Glenn McGrath on TMS: “England have their toughest batsmen out there. Root and Stokes will have to put on a big partnership tomorrow but it’s a long way back for England here.”
England bowler James Anderson speaking to TMS: “It’s a very disappointing finish to the day. It wasn’t easy to bowl Australia out but it was a good effort to do so. It was a challenging hour from Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc at the end but you expect that from world-class bowlers.
“It’s been a frustrating tour so far. We are working hard and trying to put things right. We hit our areas with the ball but it was a frustrating end to the day.”
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