England seek to engineer run-chase
A third successive declaration loomed by stumps on day two of three in England’s tour match at the MCG as Victoria moved to 278 for six, a lead of 310.
The tourists this morning banked more runs for Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell, who struck 66 and 60 not out respectively, in their own 184 for two declared at lunch.
However, they struggled to dislodge the hosts’ top three in the afternoon as opener Ryan Carters top-scored with 68.
Aaron Finch plus first-class debutants Carters and Alex Keath took advantage of a lifeless pitch before Paul Collingwood, who claimed 3-19 from six overs, and Monty Panesar caused a sudden collapse of four wickets for 29 runs.
But Strauss, who picked up a rare scalp, and Eoin Morgan fed Clint McKay and Jayde Herrick declaration bowling in the closing overs.
Unbeaten on 58 and 40 respectively, the seventh wicket pair plundered 81 in 5.2 overs to set up the possibility of a final-day target for England.
Strauss and Bell began today on 17 and six respectively in a total of 50 for one - 166 in arrears.
They helped to plunder 134 by lunch, making a nonsense of Victoria's crawl to 58 for one from 28 overs at the same stage yesterday, with a stand of 92.
It was heartening that the England captain made telling first-innings runs for the first time this winter.
His previous best was 14, from five attempts, contrasting with three hundreds so far second time round.
But he resolved that minor qualm with a 98-ball innings containing several of his favourite cuts among his nine fours, and a slog-swept six off slow left-armer Jon Holland.
Strauss was dropped at slip on 40 by Victoria skipper Cameron White, when Herrick found the edge with a little extra bounce.
It was Holland who eventually saw off Strauss, who chipped a simple catch to midwicket.
Bell, given a chance at number three again in the absence of rested Test regular Jonathan Trott, duly posted his fifth successive half-century - brought up with a cover-drive on the up for his sixth four when John Hastings offered width.
Collingwood, who was unbeaten on 29, joined in with some big hits off Holland, before Strauss decided it was time to unleash his bowlers.
Finch was the aggressor in his 72-run opening stand with Carters - and eventually holed out off Panesar to Bell at cover on 45.
Ajmal Shahzad and Tim Bresnan tested their opponents with reverse-swing in the late afternoon. But a series of lbw appeals went unanswered, either striking Carters and Keath outside the line or doing too much in the air.
After a second-wicket partnership of 75, Collingwood struck in his first over - Carters bowled round his legs when he missed an attempted paddle-sweep at the 135th ball he faced.
The medium-pacer nabbed another wicket in his second. Alastair Cook allayed any fears he is seriously troubled by the bad back which kept him off the field in the afternoon session, diving to his left at short mid-off to catch a drive off a low full-toss and see Matthew Wade out for just a single.
Then Hastings' sweep at Panesar looped up for a simple catch, and Keath went four runs short of a maiden fifty - gloving a pull behind off Collingwood.
With White and David Hussey dropped down the order, Strauss made first-innings centurion Michael Hill his third career victim - lbw pushing forward to a chinaman - and McKay then helped himself to a career-best score.
Meanwhile, Matt Prior was back behind the stumps today. He was due to play as a specialist batsman in this match but had to return to his wicketkeeping duties, with Steven Davies off the field because of a bruised finger.