England are closing in on the Ashes. After a third day of high excitement in front of a packed MCG they were left needing only four more Australian wickets to secure victory in the Fourth Test and ensure they retain the precious trophy won last year at home.
It would be their first Ashes win in Australia for nearly a quarter of a century. Mike Gatting’s tourists of 1986-87 won the series 2-1, which was to be England’s last victory anywhere until 2005.
The third day, like the first two belonged resoundingly to England after they established a lead of 415 in the first session and then worked their way busily through Australia’s batting. Jonathan Trott finished unbeaten on 168, made in a little more than eight hours from 345 balls as England lost their last five wickets while adding 64 runs in the morning.
The first innings lead of 415 was perhaps not as many as they might have expected going into the day, but it was their second largest against Australia after the almost unfeasible 702 at The Oval in 1938. Australia, needing to bat for eight sessions, or some 246 overs, to save the match, began solidly with Shane Watson and Philip Hughes putting on 54 for the first wicket.
But Hughes was run out as Watson called him for a non-existent single when he pushed a ball into the covers. In the early evening there was a clatter of wickets to Tim Bresnan. Watson made his fourth fifty of the series without reaching a hundred when he was lbw pushing forward to one swinging in.
Then Ricky Ponting, having apparently dropped anchor was bowled off an inside edge, for 20. As he walked off it was possible to wonder if it was for the last time in a Test match, so uncertain is his future now. Then came the prized wicket who reached for a wide one which he drove low to cover where Ian Bell made the low catch look deceptively simple.
Michael Clarke’s stay of 81 minutes was excruciating until he finally pushed Graeme Swann, coming round the wicket, to second slip. Steve Smith went to an ugly, ill-advised pull, Ryan Harris will almost certainly not bat because of a stress fracture in his ankle. Australia finished the day still 246 runs adrift.