They came expecting a contest, but in the end the MCG’s 38,522 strong crowd were treated to a procession.
Australia, led by Chris Rogers’ second Test century, romped to an eight-wicket victory over a sorry and bedraggled England side, who now face a battle to avoid a whitewash and utter humiliation in Sydney next week. For the tourists, a Boxing Day Test of great promise has ended in dismay. Like a kid at Christmas, they were handed their present, only to break it before the big day was out.
With both sides chasing a win, the turnstiles were hot and the members out in force. In the end, though, there was only one team in it as England snatched a hammering from the jaws of victory. Rarely can an England side touring these shores have played two more miserable days of cricket than this bunch have since seizing the initiative on Friday. To say it was a walk in the park for Australia would be wrong – they barely needed to leave the couch.
Two days earlier, England had bowled brilliantly to reduce Australia to 9-164 at the close of play on Friday. Since, they’ve unravelled royally. First, they allowed Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon 40 crucial last-wicket runs on Saturday morning, then they capitulated in the latest of a series of grim collapses as 0-65 became 10-179, leaving a target of just 230 for an Australian side with all the time in the world. Even in a low scoring game this never looked enough, but on Saturday evening they found themselves down but far from out. On Sunday, they didn’t even give themselves a chance.
Day Two had been their finest on tour to date, and England had bowled tight lines outside off, probed away and dried up the runs. On a pitch seemingly difficult to score on, they waited for Australia’s batsmen to make mistakes, and they duly did with some charitable dismissals. On Sunday, they ignored this blueprint entirely and chased wickets, feeding the strengths of their opponents, all the while failing to take their chances when they presented themselves.
Rogers played with an uncharacteristic freedom and was joined by Shane Watson, who ended with a fine 83 not out from 90 balls. Many in the crowd were surprised by Rogers’ performance, but those who have seen his efforts at domestic level, whether for Victoria, Middlesex or the numerous other sides he has represented, will know that this situation is Rogers’ bread and butter. He was superb through the gully region, off his pads and drove fluently down the ground.
johnson, rogers and haddin have all staged comebacks from different levels of possibility. each is a good story to embrace.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) December 29, 2013
Watson, at first scratchy, brutal later, was joined at the crease as victory loomed by Michael Clarke, who amid the cavalcade passed 8,000 Test runs. His bold decision to insert England on day one, a call that seemed immodest for much of the match, was vindicated as the match was won in three-and-a-half days.
England, though, were woeful on the final day. First up, Australia were made to play at everything as the long-suffering openers, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, once again shorn of the rest their Australian counterparts are afforded due to the inadequacy of their batsmen, probed away and created chances. On 19, Rogers edged Broad between the leaden-footed Jonny Bairstow and the diving Alastair Cook at slip. The chance was Bairstow’s, who had looked tidy with the gloves but showed his inexperience here. Insult was added to injury as the ball trickled away to the boundary, before Rogers uppercut a furious Broad next delivery.
Two overs later, Ben Stokes, increasingly a diamond in the thick rough for the tourists, found David Warner’s edge and it cannoned straight to Cook at a friendly height. In and out it went, and the whole story was told. Warner went shortly afterwards, Stokes finally getting his man.
As England continued to misfield, and Watson and Rogers ticked along, Cook’s captaincy became increasingly leaden, not to mention peculiar. He turned to Joe Root early and Monty Panesar wasn’t introduced to the attack for 90 minutes. Without his right and left-hand men, Matt Prior and Graeme Swann, Cook looked all at sea, a man simply not enjoying his cricket and longing for home. Soon, the crowd were on his back as the over-rate dropped and he constantly tweaked his field and held conferences with his bowlers. Ultimately, he was just re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic.
After lunch, both sides wanted this job done as quickly as possible. The Barmy Army sung from the gallows but they couldn’t stop the march to victory. Rogers brought up his ton with an attractive off-drive, before Watson reached 50 and looked to pick Panesar apart. Panesar eventually found Rogers’ edge, but bowled too short when bowling flat and too full when floating it up, and was little more than cannon-fodder.
Watson hit the winning runs with a swipe through the leg-side and a fist pump that all Australia toasted. Thiis was a special victory – they had done it the hard way. England, on the other hand, are a wounded beast and there will surely be blood.
From the captains:
Clarke: “I probably couldn’t have imagined 4-0, but I wouldn’t say I didn’t expect to win the series. It’s an amazing feeling. I think it shows the confidence we have. We have worked exceptionally hard and now have the confidence to play with freedom in the middle.The risk with bowling first in any Test is simple: if you win, it looks a good decision, if you lose, you take a lot of criticism.”
Cook: “It’s difficult, a tough time. We got an opportunity to win this game, but we’ve shown our level of confidence. We let it slip. We created three chances but didn’t take them. I can’t explain the catching, there are a lot of things I can’t explain. We are desperately trying to improve and I’m sure that will bear fruit. We can’t use anything that has happened as an excuse. Hopefully it will turn next week.”
Good day for: Chris Rogers. MJ may have been man of the match, but “Buckie” Rogers can be mighty pleased with his day’s work on his home ground. A fluent, attractive innings has secured his spot for some time. He has quietly accumulated 333 runs this series and used every ounce of his experience. A very popular century-maker indeed – 177 runs in a low-scoring match is no mean feat.
Bad day for: Monty Panesar. His captain obviously has little faith in his ability to win him matches these days, and turned to Joe Root first. Fielded comically, as always, and was milked easily by Australia’s batsmen. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t get a game in Sydney.
The Moment: A regulation chance, right in the bread-basket for Alastair Cook, a fine slipper, but out it goes. The earlier drop was disheartening but this was a body blow for England. From this moment, Cook’s head dropped, his mind was elsewhere and, for England, there was no way back.
Stat of the Day: 271,885 through the gates in four days – well done Melbourne!