This is a stunning triumph for Michael Clarke’s Australians, for the first time in the series coming from behind in a match.
The margin – eight wickets – was comprehensive in the end, though many Australians with painful memories of Fanie de Villiers at Sydney in 1994 (and sundry other fourth-innings collapses) would have shifted uncomfortably in their seats at the prospect of the relatively modest run target.
The astonishing point is that on Saturday, when Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry were up and about, England led by 116 runs with all 10 second-innings wickets intact. The tourists had every chance to win this game, but fluffed it. Their incompetence, particularly in the field, has hurt them.
The first session was the big one, Australia starting out with 201 runs to extract. Then England reprieved both the openers, Chris Rogers and David Warner, with Cook dropping both at first slip. The first was excusable; Rogers’ nick of Stuart Broad ought to have been caught by ‘keeper Jonny Bairstow, who stood statuesque, leaving his captain to dive away late. The second, from Warner, was as straight-forward a slip catch as you would see, an embarrassing faux pas.
English heads dropped, not surprisingly. Rogers was 19 at the time, and he went on to punish England with his second Test century. Cook’s team had a chance at the start of the day, but they needed to make early inroads, put some pressure upon the Australians. Here, the opportunities were presented but lost.
Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann had spoken overnight about changing tack in the second innings, finding a way to make runs on a slowish MCG pitch that had yielded a highest innings score of 255 in three innings this week. An option might have been to be more patient; in fact, Lehmann had his batsmen attack.
Rogers played superbly beyond that moment and, after Warner perished, Shane Watson found some runs when they were badly needed for once. Their century stand put the result beyond doubt, scored at north of four an over, with a hobbled Watson producing a gutsy and important innings.
Lefty Rogers is a living advertisement for the idea that concentration and prudence and smarts are as important in a batsman as ball-striking ability. He has few big shots, and a backlift that is barely perceptible. He lets the ball come to him, nurdles it here, glances it there, and occasionally he will launch into a cover drive or a dab-cut. Everything is within these limitations, for he was never lulled into the idea that he was Matthew Hayden.
He played a blinder before his adopted home crowd. Born in Sydney, raised in Perth, he moved to Melbourne a few years ago and has made runs wherever he has been, including various English counties. He pulled Jimmy Anderson with something approaching ferocity and then cover drove the same bowler to the boundary to post his century in just 135 balls.
This was a wonderful moment and the smile on his face said it all. Rogers’ elevation to the Test team in England this year had its critics, for he is 36 years old. But he averages 50 in first class cricket for a reason, and he is living for the moment right now, savouring every little innings.
He knows that he cannot hold his place for more than a year or two at best upon which, doubtless, he will go back to the next level and keep building his mountain of runs. It is easy to see him playing at 50, probably with the same battered arm guard, which Kerry O’Keeffe noted quite memorably “is older than Joe Root”.
The runs came easily for Australia and captain Cook may have instigated his own sacking with a muddled performance in charge. Cook waited 90 minutes to give his primary spinner, Monty Panesar, a bowl, and when the left-armer came on he seemed to have taken it as a slight, and bowled poorly.
Similarly Stuart Broad was held back without explanation, and there was never any sense of the obvious from his field placings: that to win, England needed to bowl Australia out, and quickly.
So it is 4-0 and on to Sydney. With the injuries to Watson and Ryan Harris and a fast bowling battery that is running dry, we might get to see James Faulkner and possibly Nathan Coulter-Nile and Alex Doolan. A second specialist spinner is always a possibility, too.
But England looks broken. Ian Botham’s 5-nil prediction is well and truly on.