England crashed to 185 all out on day one of the third Test on Sunday, leaving their Ashes dreams on the brink of ruin in the face of a relentless Australian attack.
After heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, the visitors must win in Melbourne to keep the five-Test series alive, with Australia only needing a draw to retain the urn as holders.
But those hopes took a near-fatal blow as Australia ripped through England’s flimsy batting, with only captain Joe Root (50) and Jonny Bairstow (35) showing resistance.
Australian skipper Pat Cummins, back after missing the second Adelaide Test because he was in Covid isolation, and spin king Nathan Lyon both took 3-36.
Australia then added to England’s pain by negotiating 16 overs to be 61 for one at stumps, trailing by only 124 with Marcus Harris not-out 20 despite taking a nasty blow to the finger, and nightwatchman Lyon yet to score.
But on another bad day for England they did bag the big wicket of David Warner, who raced to 38 off 42 balls before sending a thick edge off Jimmy Anderson to Zak Crawley at gully.
“As a bowling group we know we are not going to give up any soft overs. You need to take 20 wickets to win the game and that’s our motive,” said Australia’s Scott Boland, who made his debut and took the wicket of Mark Wood. “It’s a great attack to be a part of.”
After batting collapses and poor bowling in the first two Tests, Root read his players the riot act — seemingly to little effect. They have failed to score more than 297 in five innings so far.
“Obviously the toss didn’t go our way, we’d also have loved to bowl in that first session,” said Bairstow.
“Yes, we’re still looking for that big score. We’ve got to get stronger and tougher with our dismissals, we know that.
“But we’ve seen that the pitch offered plenty (for the bowlers) today and hopefully we turn up in the morning and put pressure on to get some early inroads.”
Openers Haseeb Hameed (0) and Crawley (12) fell cheaply to Cummins after he won the toss and put England in to bat, with their hopes resting once more on Root in front of 57,100 fans at the MCG — less than expected due to Covid concerns.
He brought up his 53rd Test half-century in his 112th match, but once more failed to convert it into a maiden ton in Australia after a poor shot on 50 to Mitchell Starc.
The visitors had wielded the axe after their 275-run defeat in Adelaide with Crawley in for Rory Burns and Bairstow replacing Ollie Pope at six.
Wood was recalled after being rested in Adelaide, as was off-spinner Jack Leach.
Wearing black armbands to mourn former England captain Ray Illingworth, who died aged 89, Crawley confidently drove Cummins for three in his opening over.
But Cummins struck three balls later with Hameed’s torrid tour continuing, out after nicking to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
Crawley earned his first Test chance since March, but he failed to grab it, finding an outside edge to a rising Cummins ball that Cameron Green superbly caught at gully.
His dismissal for 12 left England at 13 for two with Dawid Malan and Root, the only two English batsmen to pass 50 this series, again on the back foot.
A cautious Malan took 18 balls to get off the mark, but disaster struck near lunch when he got an edge off Cummins on 14 that carried to Warner at slip.
Root played positively to move past South Africa’s Graeme Smith (1,656 in 2008) and into third place for the most runs scored in a calendar year.
But just as he looked set he offered a lazy stroke that took a nick and was taken by Carey, with the England captain livid.
Star all-rounder Ben Stokes departed for 25 to Green, then Jos Buttler lasted only 11 balls.
He hit Lyon to Boland, the first Indigenous man to play Test cricket for Australia since Jason Gillespie.
Boland then snared Wood before Bairstow gloved Starc to Green and Australia mopped up the tail.