England’s earnest dressing-room discussions about improving shot selection failed to bear fruit on Sunday’s opening day of the third Ashes Test, as shambolic batting delivered a Boxing Day feast of wickets for Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
England face more ‘honest’ discussions after they were bowled out for 185 on Sunday. Australia reached 61/1 at stumps. Admittedly England, humiliated in a 275-run defeat in Adelaide, faced a tough task to bounce back on Sunday.
Australia captain Pat Cummins won the toss and invited under-siege England to bat first on a green-tinged, seaming MCG pitch. England was 61/3 at lunch. By tea, the tourists were 128/6, having lost the key wicket of skipper Joe Root for 50.
England’s resistance with the bat lasted just 65.1 overs. World No.1-ranked bowler Cummins (3/36), spinner Nathan Lyon (3/36) and left-arm quick Mitchell Starc (2/54) combined to keep the pressure on England’s batters.
A loose shot outside off stump by Root, a questionable cut by Ben Stokes, and a wild heave by Jos Buttler will attract heavy attention from England’s press after another difficult day for the tourists, who trail two-nil in the five-match series.
Jonny Bairstow, who scored 35, said Australia was handed a huge advantage by winning the toss. But he conceded England’s batters needed to lift. “Both teams were looking to bowl first. It was overcast with the weather conditions this morning and the pitch was green,” Bairstow said.
“We’ve got to get a bit stronger and tougher with our dismissals. We spoke about that. That’s just being honest with ourselves.” Asked if he was disappointed with the shot selection of Buttler and Stokes, Bairstow said players were instructed to play their natural games.
“Naturally the execution of those (shots) wasn’t there today. They and we will look back on (those shots) and probably reassess next time,” Bairstow said.
Rain delayed the start of play for 30 minutes before Cummins ripped through England’s top order on his return to the team after being ruled out for the second test at Adelaide due to being a close contact of a positive COVID case.
The skipper first removed Haseeb Hameed without scoring and then had Zak Crawley caught at gully for 12. Dawid Malan added 48 for third wicket with Root, before Cummins was rewarded in the final over before lunch, as Malan was caught at first slip for 14.
Australia claimed another three wickets in the middle session, dismissing the dangerous duo of Root and Stokes (25). The departure of Buttler for three, after aiming a wild slog to deep mid-wicket off the bowling of Lyon in the last over before tea, summed up England’s struggles against Australia’s disciplined bowling.
World No.2-ranked batsman Root added to his side’s woes outside off stump by offering a catch to wicketkeeper Alex Carey off the bowling of Mitchell Starc at 82/4. Stokes tried to lift England’s scoring rate by launching into an aggressive cut shot off the bowling of Cameron Green, but the left-hander was caught at gully at 115/5.
Debutant Scott Boland, playing at his home-state ground, claimed his first test wicket by trapping Mark Wood leg before to the delight of the 57,100 fans at the MCG. Bairstow fell over as he edged a bouncer from Starc to gully at 159-8. Lyon removed tailenders Jack Leach (13) and Ollie Robinson (22).
David Warner and Marcus Harris (20 not out) shared an opening stand of 57 for Australia. Warner was caught at gully off the bowling of Jimmy Anderson for 38.
Harris required medical attention during the following over after being struck on the hand by a bouncer from Stokes, but survived to the end of play with nightwatchman Nathan Lyon to leave the hosts in the ascendancy again this series.
Boland, who is only the second Indigenous player to represent Australia’s men’s test-cricket side, said Australia’s bowlers worked hard to make England’s batters play.
“We tried to keep it really full in the first session,” Boland said. “Their batters were pretty conscious about trying to leave the ball so we tried to keep attacking them as much as we could and we were judging ourselves on how much we could make them play.”