England close in on Ashes triumph
England stand on the brink of retaining the Ashes with a match to spare after another wonderful bowling display on day three of the fourth Test at the MCG.
Recalled seamer Tim Bresnan claimed three wickets in 18 balls in the evening session as the tourists reduced Australia to 169 for six in their second innings.
Ricky Ponting’s side require a further 247 runs to make England bat again and may well have to make do without number nine Ryan Harris, who limped off this morning with a stress fracture of the left ankle.
After dismissing Australia for a paltry 98 on day one, England’s bowlers excelled themselves once again today to put their side within touching distance of a memorable accomplishment.
Bresnan, who replaced Steven Finn for this match, was the stand-out performer as he returned exceptional figures of 3-26, but all four of England’s frontline bowlers deserve immense credit.
Graeme Swann bowled with great discipline to finish with 1-23 from 22 overs, while the new-ball pairing of James Anderson and Chris Tremlett were desperately unfortunate not to gain further reward for their efforts.
Shane Watson was the only Australia batsman to reach 50 and the innings quickly went into freefall when he became Bresnan’s first victim shortly after tea.
Peter Siddle claimed 6-75 earlier in the day as England were dismissed for 513 in their first innings, with Jonathan Trott carrying his bat for a sublime 168.
With a deficit of 415, Australia faced a daunting task but openers Watson and Phil Hughes made a positive start and took less than 10 overs to post 50.
The turning point came when Hughes was run out for 23. The left-hander was slow to react after his partner had called for a risky single off Swann and Trott’s accurate throw from the covers gave Matt Prior the opportunity to whip off the bails with Hughes just short of his ground.
England piled on the pressure thereafter and the hosts did well to make it through to tea on 90 for one.
Ponting took 15 balls to get off the mark before surviving strong lbw appeals from Anderson and Bresnan, while Watson saw an outside edge off Tremlett land inches short of wicketkeeper Prior.
Watson moved to 50 in the final over of the afternoon session, but he managed just four more before falling lbw as he offered no shot to an inswinging delivery from Bresnan.
A review failed to save the all-rounder and Michael Clarke almost followed as he walked past a flatter delivery from Swann, only for Prior to miss a routine stumping opportunity.
England’s frustration quickly subsided as Ponting - playing with an angled bat - was bowled via an inside edge by a Bresnan delivery that kept a fraction low.
Mike Hussey, so often Australia’s saviour in this series, then departed for a seven-ball duck to provide Bresnan with his third wicket. The left-hander picked out Ian Bell, who held a fine catch just to his right at short cover, as he drove on the up.
Clarke looked uncomfortable throughout his 66-ball stay and managed just 13 before edging a flatter ball from Swann - operating around the wicket - to Andrew Strauss at second slip.
England made one further breakthrough before stumps as Steven Smith, on 38, dragged on to his wicket attempting to pull an innocuous delivery from Anderson.
Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson will resume tomorrow morning on 11 and six respectively but, with the weather set fair, a home defeat is now almost inevitable.
Australia at least had something to cheer this morning as Siddle - who was involved in all five dismissals on day two - gained further reward for a typically hard-working display.
Prior added 10 to his overnight score of 75 before clipping the paceman into the hands of Ponting at mid-on and Bresnan lasted only 17 balls before becoming Siddle’s fifth victim, a length delivery taking the outside edge as the batsman pushed forward defensively.
Harris had exited by this stage after pulling up lame on his run-up and Johnson may also have been longing for the sanctuary of the dressing room as he conceded 31 runs in a dreadful four-over spell.
Swann dished out the bulk of the punishment in an entertaining 28-ball 22, while Trott moved past 150 in serene fashion with a clip through midwicket for three off the left-armer.
England’s number three did benefit from a moment of fortune soon after as a miscued pull off Ben Hilfenhaus somehow landed safely just yards from the square.
Hilfenhaus finally opened his account in his next over, a leaping Haddin taking a superb catch after the ball had looped off the bottom of Swann’s bat as he attempted a hugely ambitious hook.
Tremlett soon followed as the seamer got one to swing in through the gate and Siddle had the final say when a similar delivery accounted for Anderson.
Trott was therefore denied the opportunity to register a double hundred, but his magnificent innings had helped England into a position of total supremacy.