|Third Ashes Test, Melbourne (day one of five)|
|England 185 Root 50, Bairstow 35; Cummins 3-36, Lyon 3-36|
|Australia 61-1 Warner 38, Harris 20*; Anderson 1-14|
|Trail by 124 runs|
England’s batting capitulated again as Australia’s dominance of the Ashes series continued on day one of the crucial third Test in Melbourne.
Trailing 2-0 and needing to win to keep their Ashes hopes alive, England were dismissed for a pitiful 185 after being put into bat in the iconic Boxing Day Test.
The tourists were 19-2 after another top-order failure – Haseeb Hameed out for a 10-ball duck and fellow opener Zak Crawley, one of four England changes from defeat in Adelaide, making just 12 on his return.
Captain Joe Root reached 50 before he was caught behind playing a careless waft off the bowling of Mitchell Starc.
That was the first of three dire dismissals in the afternoon session with Ben Stokes cutting Cameron Green to point for 25 and Jos Buttler holing out off Nathan Lyon for three on the stroke of tea.
Only 35 from the recalled Jonny Bairstow and 22 from Ollie Robinson, who was last man out after some slogging, prevented an even more humiliating score.
To further compound England’s problems, David Warner thrashed an energetic 38 from 42 balls before the opener was caught in the gully off James Anderson with just 10 minutes left to play. Australia closed on 61-1, trailing by 124.
Australia will seal a series victory with two Tests to spare by winning in Melbourne and are guaranteed to retain the urn if they draw.
In a must-win game, England have shown little evidence they will turn around a series in which they have been outclassed during almost every day’s play.
England sink further
England’s efforts in Brisbane and Adelaide were dismal. At Melbourne, after talk of “brutally honest” team meetings in the build-up, they managed to sink further towards disarray.
The day was delayed by morning drizzle and when home captain Pat Cummins asked England to bat on an green pitch, unsurprisingly there were worries for England’s chances.
In truth, however, some bounce and early seam movement aside, conditions were not as difficult as anticipated. England only offered a meek surrender.
Cummins was exceptional in the morning session, removing Hameed, Crawley and Dawid Malan, but otherwise Mitchell Starc was wayward, 32-year-old seamer Scott Boland steady but unthreatening on debut and spinner Nathan Lyon played a holding role on a day one pitch.
What followed, from Root, Stokes and Buttler – England’s three most senior batters, was inexcusable. As partnerships threatened to build, they gifted their wickets with bad shots.
England are already attempting to do something they have never managed before – come from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series.
On a pitch where a score of 350 looked par, they have handed Australia the upper hand at the earliest opportunity.
Different England, same problems
Hameed’s 10-ball duck was England’s 50th this year – four short of the all-time Test record – and the right-hander’s second in succession. He came forward on the front foot in defence and nicked Cummins to Alex Carey.
Crawley was recalled in place of Rory Burns despite averaging 11.14 in 2021 but it made little difference. He lasted 25 balls, playing a couple of good strokes, before being squared up by Cummins and edging to the gully.
Malan threatened to calm proceedings, again alongside Root, but the left-hander edged a ball pushed across him by Cummins in the final over before lunch, a crucial blow.
In another familiar trend, Root again failed to record his maiden Test hundred in Australia despite looking close to his busy best.
The England captain, who has been out between 50 and 90 eight times in his past eight Tests in Australia, was furious after he left the field following his dismissal.
When Buttler followed Stokes, having skied a catch to deep square leg, there were stunned faces around the 57,000-strong crowd.
Warner added more misery late on before falling to Anderson, he and fellow opener Marcus Harris able to cut and pull as again England erred short rather than full.
Cummins leads the way on return
Seamer Cummins’s impressive showing comes after he missed the Adelaide Test after being deemed a close contact of someone with Covid-19 while dining in a restaurant.
He was able to end his isolation period after three days on his return to his home in Sydney but his performance was no less remarkable for a bowler short of match practice.
Boland, picked for his strong record at the MCG for his state Victoria, bowled an awkward, heavy length and claimed his first Test wicket when trapping Wood lbw.
Alastair Cook scored 244 not out on this ground in 2017 but despite this pitch offering more assistance to bowlers than that featherbed, Australia will look to build a match-defining lead on day two.
‘An air of similarity’ – reaction
Former Australia bowler Glenn McGrath: “It’s not a 185 all out pitch. There is a bit in it but no real demons. It could’ve easily been a pitch you’d bat first on.”
Former England bowler Steven Finn on Test Match Special: “It was disappointing. After all the noise we heard over how different things were going to be here, there was just an air of similarity to it.
“They seemed slightly muddled, and not entirely sure where to sit between being aggressive and trying to impose yourself on the game, but also having resolute defence at the same time.”
Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc, speaking to BT Sport: “It was a bit tacky under foot so I thought we bowled well and a fraction fuller than England did in that final session. Collectively, I think 185 was a pretty good day for us.”