Australia 1 for 61 (Harris 20*, Lyon 0*) trail England 185 (Root 50, Cummins 3-36, Lyon 3-36) by 124 runs
It was a case of the more things change the more they stay the same for England as Australia took a stranglehold on the Ashes, bowling out the tourists for 185 on the opening day of the third Test at the MCG before reaching the close one wicket down and only 124 runs behind.
England had made four changes to their side that lost by 275 runs in Adelaide to concede a 2-0 lead in the series, but again their batters struggled as Pat Cummins ripped through the top order by lunch and Nathan Lyon matched his captain’s haul of 3 for 36 as England succumbed for under 200 runs for the 12th time this year.
In between, Cameron Green reaped rewards for a suffocating four-over spell and Scott Boland claimed a wicket on Test debut while also taking two catches to have a further hand in England’s demise before a Boxing Day crowd of 57,100.
The Australians reached 57 without loss before James Anderson had David Warner sharply caught by Zak Crawley at gully. The hosts closed on 1 for 61 with under-pressure opener Marcus Harris unbeaten on 20.
Cummins won the toss after rain delayed the start and sent England in to bat on a pitch offering some grass coverage. He capitalised with his fifth ball – the 11th legitimate delivery of the match after Mitchell Starc had opened with a no-ball – when he had Haseeb Hameed out feathering a catch behind to Alex Carey for a second consecutive duck.
Cummins then had Crawley, replacing opener Rory Burns, caught by Green at gully for 12 as England slumped to 2 for 13 inside eight overs. The tourists were again looking to Joe Root and Dawid Malan to steady them and they did, to some extent, with a 48-run partnership from 115 balls. But England needed so much more than even the 162-run stand they put on to give them some hope in the first Test in Brisbane and, when Cummins had Malan caught in the slips by Warner on the last ball before the lunch, they were again in strife at 3 for 61.
Root brought up his ninth fifty in Australia after the break, but he fell a short time later when Starc – used sparingly in the morning session – had him caught behind chasing a ball outside off stump. Visibly furious with the fallibility of his dismissal, Root now needs to score a maiden century in Australia – 109 runs to be precise – in England’s second innings if he is to pass Mohammad Yousuf’s record for runs scored in a calendar year.
More importantly, however, England needed their skipper to convert to dig them out of a hole. Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, the latter replacing Ollie Pope, set about trying to salvage the innings but Green applied sublime pressure in a four-over spell which included three maidens and one wicket for one run, when Stokes tried to lift him over the slips cordon, but picked out Lyon at point for 25. Green threatened to claim another two balls later with a pearl of a delivery that zipped back between Jos Buttler’s bat and pad as the scoreless batsman lunged forward.
It was Lyon who had Buttler out, England’s No. 7 advancing down the pitch and skying the ball straight to Boland at deep midwicket – a rash shot which saw him depart for just 3 on the stroke of tea. Lyon also dismissed Ollie Robinson for a spirited 22 from 26 deliveries and Jack Leach, who took his fellow spinner for 11 runs off one over – including a thumping straight six, before falling for 13. Leach had returned to the side after his bowling had been punished at the Gabba, making his courage with the bat a short-lived bright spot for England.
Mark Wood, coming in for Stuart Broad in England’s other personnel change, had earlier became Boland’s first Test wicket when he was trapped lbw. Boland became the fourth Indigenous Test cricketer after Faith Thomas, Jason Gillespie and Ashleigh Garner in one of two changes for the Australians alongside the return of Cummins, who missed the second Test as a close contact of a Covid case.
Wood threatened with the ball, showing England what they had been missing Adelaide, but it was Anderson who made the breakthrough that was a rare moment of solace for the battling tourists.