England set for Ashes glory

England stand on the brink of retaining the Ashes, 24 years on from their last triumphant tour of Australia, after their bowlers blasted through the hosts’ top order in the fourth Test on Tuesday.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Wed 29 Dec 2010, 12:33 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:26 AM

Needing 415 runs just to make England bat again, Australia’s brittle batsmen failed to withstand the pressure in front of a crowd of more than 68,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, limping to 169 for six at close on the third day.

England need only clinch the remaining four wickets — in fact three may well be enough with Ryan Harris injured — to go 2-1 up with one to play in the five-match series and become the first team to take home the Ashes since Mike Gatting led the tourists to a 2-1 triumph in 1986/87.

Australia, bundled out for 98 in the first innings, still trail by 246 runs with two days left to play in a match they cannot afford to lose, with England, as holders, only needing a drawn series to retain the urn.

Tim Bresnan, called into the side for Steve Finn, took three wickets in a brilliant spell after tea to leave Australia reeling on 104-4 before Graeme Swann and James Anderson took a wicket apiece to inflict further pain on the hosts.

Brad Haddin (11) and Mitchell Johnson (6) were left at stumps facing the virtually impossible task of halting England’s victory charge on day four, after Bresnan recorded his best Test figures of 3-26.

Shane Watson, who top-scored with 54 but ran out his opening partner Phillip Hughes for 23 to start the tumbling of wickets, conceded the Ashes were beyond Australia’s grasp.

“Obviously we will do everything we can to restore the pride and try to draw the series, but in the end the most important thing is actually winning that little urn and we haven’t been able to do it,” he said.

England’s task may even be made easier, with Australia paceman Harris uncertain to bat after suffering an ankle injury that will likely require surgery.

One of Bresnan’s wickets was Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who struggled to 20 before chopping on to his stumps, continuing a woeful run in a series in which his highest score remains an unbeaten 51 in the drawn first Test in Brisbane.

Ponting apologised before taking the crease for his ugly remonstration with the umpires on Monday over a video referral, but mea culpas may not save the 36-year-old’s captaincy or win forgiveness from a shattered Australian public.

He stands on the verge of becoming the first Australian skipper in more than 100 years to lose the Ashes three times and after scores of 10, 1, 12, 9 and 0 in his five previous innings, can no longer lean on his batting record to justify his tenure.

Australia’s bowlers, to their credit, had earlier raced through England’s last five wickets for the addition of 69 runs to have the tourists dismissed for 513 just before lunch.

Any hope of the attack’s performance inspiring the batsmen were soon dashed when Watson ran out Hughes.

The pair had made a bright start, notching 50 runs at more than five an over, before Watson pushed to cover and called Hughes through for a single.

“It’s a horrendous feeling running out a team mate, you’d rather it be yourself,” said Watson, who has a reputation as an unreliable runner. “I thought there was a run but obviously there wasn’t...so, I’d say it was my fault.”

Jonathan Trott, whose unbeaten 168 earlier put England in complete command, swooped on the ball and flung it low and straight to wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who whipped off the bails with Hughes short of the crease.

The dismissal was a repeat of the run out in the second test in Adelaide when Watson ran Simon Katich out on the fourth ball of the first innings, though there Trott made a direct hit.

Watson and Ponting helped Australia stutter to 95-1 at tea but rarely appeared comfortable at the crease and both soon lost their wickets to Bresnan.

The replacement quick trapped Watson lbw for 54 before removing Ponting, then Mike Hussey for a duck (0) when the batsman pushed a delivery that stayed low to short cover where Ian Bell took a smart catch.

Michael Clarke, who has managed one half-century in the series, scratched around for 13 runs in a 66-ball knock before nicking a Swann delivery to skipper Andrew Strauss at slip.

Steve Smith survived a little longer but was bowled by Anderson for 38 to leave the hosts reeling at 158-6.

Australia’s woes had earlier been compounded when paceman Harris hobbled off the ground injured after stumbling in an aborted run-up bowling to Bresnan. A team spokesman later said Harris would likely need surgery for a stress fracture. —

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