England assume total control
England took a huge step towards retaining the Ashes as they dominated the opening day of the fourth Test at the MCG.
The hosts dramatically crumbled to 98 all out in front of a Boxing Day Crowd of over 84,000, with James Anderson and Chris Tremlett sharing eight wickets.
The England seamers certainly received assistance from a lively pitch containing patches of green, but Australia did themselves few favours as they displayed a staggering lack of application and discipline throughout their innings.
All 10 batsmen departed to catches behind the wicket - six to wicketkeeper Matt Prior - and vice-captain Michael Clarke was the only man to reach 20.
Anderson and Tremlett were the chief destroyers with 4-44 and 4-26 respectively, while Tim Bresnan - who replaced Steven Finn in the only change to England’s line-up - recorded impressive figures of 2-25 from 13 overs.
An unchanged Australia’s misery was then compounded as openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook shared an unbroken opening stand of 157.
The duo finished the day unbeaten on 64 and 80, putting England in a position of total dominance as they look to secure the victory that will ensure they keep the urn.
The first three Tests of this series all provided their share of early drama and the pattern continued this morning after Strauss called correctly at the toss.
Shane Watson was dropped in each of Anderson’s opening two overs, Paul Collingwood spilling a difficult chance low to his left at third slip and Kevin Pietersen failing to hold on to a more straightforward opportunity at gully.
However, the opener failed to make the most of his good fortune and soon departed to a hostile delivery from Tremlett.
The Surrey paceman extracted prodigious bounce from just short of a length and the ball looped off the glove to provide Pietersen with the simplest chance to redeem himself.
Phil Hughes and Ricky Ponting were never able to settle and the former was lucky not to be run out on 12 as Cook narrowly missed the stumps with a throw from backward short-leg.
Australia’s captain briefly hinted at a return to form as he pulled Anderson to the square-leg boundary twice in the space of three balls.
But the momentum soon shifted back in England’s favour as Hughes departed in injudicious fashion, a wild drive off Bresnan picking out Pietersen at gully.
Australia endured further misery in the next over as Ponting groped at another excellent rising delivery from Tremlett and edged to second slip, where Graeme Swann reacted quickly to take a fine catch.
New batsman Mike Hussey survived an early scare as England reviewed an unsuccessful lbw appeal later in the over, only for replays to show the ball would have gone over the stumps.
Bresnan also came close to trapping the left-hander leg before, but umpire Aleem Dar spotted the faintest of inside edges.
Hussey and Clarke started to find their feet as the morning session drew to a close, but Anderson returned to break the fourth-wicket partnership.
An uncharacteristic lack of footwork led to Hussey’s downfall as he looked to drive a full delivery and succeeded only in feathering an edge through to Prior.
Only one more ball was possible before rain forced an early lunch and further showers delayed the start of the afternoon session by 45 minutes.
When play did resume, England wasted little time in pressing home their advantage.
A hint of seam movement from Anderson proved enough to account for Steven Smith as the 21-year-old pushed firmly at a length delivery outside off stump and edged through to Prior.
There was little in the way of resistance thereafter as Australia folded in spectacular fashion.
Clarke was also caught behind off Anderson as he played loosely away from his body, before Brad Haddin edged Bresnan to Strauss at first slip attempting an ill-advised thrash through the covers.
Mitchell Johnson lasted only four balls before Anderson induced another edge through to Prior and the innings came to an end soon after as Tremlett had Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus caught behind.
England’s openers had few problems in reply, with the erratic Johnson, who picked up the man-of-the-match award in Perth, coming in for particular punishment.
Cook suffered a scare on 27 when Hilfenhaus successfully appealed for lbw, but the decision was overturned on review after replays showed the batsman had got an inside edge onto his pad.
The Essex opener duly progressed to fifty - from 93 balls - and Strauss also recorded a half-century, as well as 6,000 Test runs, as England made light of the troubles faced by their counterparts earlier in the day.
Australia eventually turned to Smith in a bid to revive their fortunes and the young leg-spinner was unfortunate to see an edge from Strauss land short of slip.
The majority of Australia’s supporters had disappeared by this stage, however, and their side now have a mountain to climb if they are to keep their hopes of Ashes glory alive.