Sport Cricket England squanders winning hand in Fourth Ashes Test
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England squanders winning hand in Fourth Ashes Test

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In a nutshell: In Test cricket, just like a golf major, the third day is moving day.

This fourth Ashes Test match at the MCG, a low-scoring and miserly affair and without doubt the finest in the series, was quite literally blown into action on the third afternoon as Australia did the moving and England, as they have done so often of late, ground to a halt.

The Barmy Army awoke with a spring in their step and left with their hopes of restoring their shattered pride teetering on the edge.

Either way, this Test is highly unlikely to last until a fifth day and the fourth is set up to be a cracker.

Thirteen wickets fell on Friday, 11 on Saturday and England require ten Australian scalps on Sunday if they are to head to Sydney with a win under their belt.

After England’s latest capitulation and Chris Rogers and David Warner’s safe passage to stumps, Australia need 201 more runs.

Nathan Lyon was Australia’s hero on Saturday.

He and Brad Haddin kept England in the field for forty minutes first thing, adding forty crucial runs and tiring England’s attack, so superb a day earlier.

Lyon, so often the bridesmaid, so rarely the bride, then stole the show, uprooting England’s middle order with his first five-wicket haul on Australian soil.

Even Mitchell Johnson, once again superb when picking up three wickets, a catch and a run out, could not steal Lyon’s thunder.

With the bat England were abject once more and will curse a day of missed opportunity after their finest effort of the tour on Friday.

In the course of almost a whole day’s batting, they added an aggregate of just 110 runs: an advantage of 91 became just 201 by 6pm.

It was a performance that summed up their series’ batting; a tale of frenzied collapses, brain fades and nibbles outside off in the face of organised and hostile bowling.

The day began relatively sedately.

Alastair Cook allowed Haddin runs, he reached 65 before top edging Jimmy Anderson through to Jonny Bairstow, and chased the wicket of Lyon, who batted impressively to reach 18 not out.

Haddin batted calmly and cleverly before falling for his series average of 65 when the new ball arrived.

Johnson will be remembered for the pace, the bounce and the moustache when the series ends but the runs of Haddin, surely now the patron saint of lost causes, from number seven have made it all possible.

If England were frustrated by Haddin and Lyon, their batting certainly didn’t show it.

Cook flew out of the blocks, reaching the 18 he required for 8,000 Test runs in the blink of an eye and arriving at lunch on 41.

Michael Carberry, on the other hand, was struggling to get the ball off the square, but made it to the interval with five from 50 deliveries. It had been a funny old session, but it surely belonged to England.

Cook looked in fine touch, driving, pulling and cutting, and the lead stood at 105.

After the break England’s steady progressed continued.

Cook cashed in off Shane Watson, bowling and moving with all the agility of a tranquillised rhinoceros, while Johnson and Siddle found probing lines and continued to tie down Carberry.

Eventually, the pressure told and Johnson pinned Cook, trapped on his crease and done for pace, with a beauty that nipped back a touch and would have taken leg stump.

With England still in the box seat, Joe Root, having survived an over-turned review second ball, took no time to fly past the static Carberry.

Then the first batch of chaos arrived.

Carberry, with 12 from 81, had barely troubled the scorers and was put out of his misery by Siddle, who trapped him lbw.

Three balls later, Root pushed Lyon to Johnson at mid off and called for a single.

He’d hit it hard to Johnson’s left hand and was run out by a metre.

Root’s call was brainless but Ian Bell was the worst offender, picking out Johnson at mid off with perfect accuracy.

A score of 1-86 had become 4-87 and England were at it again.

Kevin Pietersen and Ben Stokes, despite another suicidal single, survived until tea with the lead standing at 167.

The first hour after the break was calmer again. England lost Stokes to a brainless heave to mid off but Pietersen was playing a fine hand and Jonny Bairstow looked comfortable, twice swatting Lyon for six at the Members’ end.

The wind changed, though, and with it England threw away their last five wickets for six runs in forty balls.

As a whole host of garbage, hats, bails and beach balls flew around the ‘G’ and the temperature dropped noticeably, Bairstow nibbled at Johnson, Bresnan played on to Lyon, Broad swiped two balls later, Pietersen holed out at long-off and Panesar was trapped in front.

Batting wasn’t easy and Australia had bowled well but this was kamikaze stuff.

All ten fell in the space of just 114 runs and only Cook and Pietersen had shown the application required to bat on a track that remains flat, but just requires patience.

This was a snapshot of England’s series: two collapses of 5-6 and 3-1 had handed it to Australia on a plate.

Rogers and Warner survived the final 30 minutes without incident, a hammer blow to England’s hopes.

They require similarly brainless Australian batting and a superb display of bowling if they are to win the game.

From the dressing rooms:

Bairstow: “Of course we can do it. In the first innings we bowled them out for less than the target they are chasing. We got the ball moving sideways and bowled with great skill. Hopefully we can take that show of skill into tomorrow. I don’t know why we keep collapsing. If we knew that we would have put our fingers on it and moved on.”

Lyon: “It’s been a great day personally but we’ve still got a lot of work to do in this game and that’s more important to me” (as told to ABC Grandstand).

Good day for: Nathan Lyon. The beneficiary of some extraordinary charity from England’s batsmen but this man is some cricketer and Australia’s unsung hero. His is a great story and he’s the people’s champ – he bats well, he fields brilliantly wherever called upon and today got his just deserts for a summer of hard yards with the ball. He reached 100 Tests wickets when he got Broad and there was no louder cheer all day.

Bad day for: Graham Gooch. Another batting collapse means the batting coach will surely be one of the first to go when the post-Ashes clear out happens.

The moment: The wind is swirling and Johnson has it over his back. KP, who has been arguing with the moustachioed one all afternoon, provides a nondescript defensive stroke to another thunderbolt. But something’s awry as Haddin appeals, along with the crowd, as the bails are off. Has he hit wicket? KP stays put and Billy Bowden reveals a moment of respite for the bedraggled Englishman. It wasn’t Johnson, or Pietersen, it was that game-changing westerly wind.

Stat of the day: Lyon is the fourth-youngest Australian to reach 100 wickets. At 26 years and 38 days, only Messrs Warne, McDermott and McKenzie were younger when they notched up the milestone.

What tomorrow holds: A result, and most likely an Australian win. England have squandered a brilliant position and require a gargantuan effort from their five-man attack, not to mention their fielders, if they are to take the win. Sensible batting and a deck that holds no demons should see Australia romp to a 4-0 lead.

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