England are staring down the barrel of 3-0 and an Ashes series defeat after a Boxing Day nightmare, that saw the work of a promising day for the tourists collapse in the final hour of play.
Australian found fierce form with the ball late on the second day of the Boxing Day test in Melbourne which has pushed England to the brink of a second Ashes loss in three series.
Joe Roots’ men were put to the sword by the ball again against ruthless Australiagetty
England had appeared on course for their best day of a painful series Down Under, having bowled out the hosts for 267 at MCG.
But, roared on by the Melbourne crowd – that peaked at almost 43,000 – Australia ripped back in the final hour of play as they took four big wickets, including Dawid Malan for a first ball duck, as Joe Root’s men closed on 31 for 4 – still 51 behind.
Mitchell Starc came close to a hat-trick as he bowled out Zak Crawley and Malan with successive deliveries, then fizzed the next past Joe Root’s outside edge.
The decibel level climbed again when debutant, and hometown favourite, Scott Boland removed Haseeb Hameed and nightwatchman Jack Leach in his first five balls.
Malan was out first ball on Boxing Daygetty
Incredibly, England could easily have been in even bigger trouble by the close with a handful of near misses, lucky escapes and outright brilliant balls leaving them in dire straits after 12 overs of electric cricket.
Root and Ben Stokes somehow clung on for the close but, at 2-0 behind in the series and with the gulf between the sides mercilessly exposed once more, there seems no way back.
The closing passage of play was a worthy addition to Ashes lore, by far the most electric period of the tour to date and one that England were simply unable to compete with.
Pat Cummins was inexplicably wicketless as he turned in a six-over clinic, of pace, poise and near permanent jeopardy.
He saw Hameed glove a bouncer over the slips, had the opener so scrambled he left a ball that would have only just cleared middle stump had it not hit his front pad and watched as Crawley nicked a beauty between slip and wicketkeeper.
That aside, he also ripped a handful of seaming deliveries past the outside of various bats at speed.
Mitchell Starc came close to a hat-trick as Australia’s bowlers had a field day in the final hour of playgetty
Starc was the perfect foil, ferociously focused on his favourite aggressive lines as he had Crawley caught behind for seven – his second failure of his comeback match – and then pinned Malan for a golden duck with a tight lbw verdict.
Most of the fans who stamped their feet in anticipation of a famous hat-trick thought Root had obliged when he pressed forward at one that left him slightly off the pitch and nestled in Alex Carey’s gloves, but he survived by a whisker.
When Boland replaced Starc it should have represented a moment of respite, but instead he played his part to perfection. Bang on point right away his third ball got Hameed nicking around off stump, ending a 31-ball stay that must have seemed like a lifetime for the 24-year-old.
Hometown favourite Scott Boland has a debut to remember as he removed two England batsmen in his first five ballsgetty
England opted to send out Leach to spare Stokes the late examination but the gamble was a calamity, as the tailender left a ball that tailed back in and cleaned him up. Australia celebrated with the joy of a side who know they are on the verge of retaining the urn at the earliest opportunity.
Stokes was pressed into service after all but took his time to emerge, perhaps as a result of scrambling to get his kit on.
He kept enough composure to finish not out alongside Root, who squeezed an edge just wide of third slip in the closing moments, but it would take something special from the duo to continue this one-sided battle.