For the third day running the MCG faithful came to the arena. Successive crowds of 85,000, 67,000 and 68,000 showed that Victorians love their sport. The question was had they come to praise Ricky Ponting or to bury him? The question would remain unanswered until the Australians batted.
Siddle mopped up the tail and Hilfenhaus wasted a beauty to Tremlett as England was bowled out for 513. Siddle captured 6-75 in a mixed display. Once he sorts out his penchant for bowling too short, he will be a more effective bowler. But at least he is showing signs of learning and he is only into his 20th Test.
Philip Hughes and Watson would have felt like mountaineers at Everest’s base camp and shivered inwardly at the prospect of overhauling 415 runs. They had 25 after five overs – and I thought at this rate they could have 750 on the board at the end of day four!
Australia negotiated the first steep bit of the mountain to reach 50 when Watson was involved in another run out. This was the sixth run out involving him in the 26 Tests he has played. And Watson was only run out once out of these six occasions. His partners will start treating him with increasing suspicion from here on. It was an unnecessary run and I feel he sold Hughes a pup. Would you buy a carpet or a used car from Watson?
Ponting emerged to a mixture of boos and muted applause. Has there ever been an Australian batsman under more scrutiny? Any captain with more questions about his suitability? Ponting is built like a Sherpa, and would need all of their resilience to salvage some pride from the debris around him.
Anderson, who has dismissed him thrice in this series, was introduced in a flash and probed away outside Ponting’s off stump. There were more appeals than you would find in a Magistrate’s Court. Both Ponting and Watson played more with their pads than their bats and were looking for non-existent demons. Every Englishman’s shadow seemed larger than normal.
Tremlett was again the pick and he harried Watson with steep bounce. Watson was lucky to survive and seemed anxious approaching his personal fifty. Is he a man obsessed with personal milestones? His failures in the nineties point to a fragility that is at odds with his masculinity.
On 54 he was adjudged LBW to Bresnan, not offering a shot. It looked plumb. He referred it and the replays confirmed the decision. Watson, like a petulant child, walked off shaking his head and gave the impression he had been wronged.
Ponting faced 73 torturous balls and it seemed every one of them had his epitaph written on it. This was sad to see; a once proud batsman reduced to a shell. When he was bowled for 20, Australia’s Ashes hopes were extinguished and only the last rites remained when Hussey went for nought.
It would do well to reflect that this England side is one of the best prepared to come to these shores. They have planned for contingencies. Tremlett has slotted in seamlessly for Stuart Broad. Bresnan has applied the tourniquet that Finn could not. All through this series they have been able to carry an out of form Collingwood.
As organised as England is, Australia are the exact opposite.
At 4-120, Clarke had the opportunity to regain some of his lost lustre. The young, in some quarters the wrong ‘un, Steve Smith would attempt to play his shots and try to prove his detractors wrong.
Swann completely bottled the Southern End and had seven maidens in his first 13 overs. This was death by strangulation. From the other end, first Bresnan and later Tremlett applied their own version of water torture.
Clarke lasted 66 balls for 13 runs before he prodded, almost apologetically, to Swann and Strauss snaffled him with his usual no-fuss competency. Strauss grows in stature with every calculated dismissal.
Smith and Haddin would fight and play shots to the bitter end. But there was no escaping England’s total mastery over Australia.
Smith went to pull Anderson and only succeeded in playing on. It would be churlish to lay much blame on his young shoulders. The blame lies higher up; much higher than the embattled captain and the vice-captain – though these two may also be part of the collateral damage when the bloodletting begins.
Haddin and Johnson will be on the burning deck when play resumes on the fourth day with Australia tottering on 6 for 159 and a mammoth 246 runs in arrears.
The King is dead. Long live the King.