England set new standard for collapses

SECOND TEST: Ashes series running away from Atherton as leg spinner's t riple strike hastens tourists' comprehensive defeat
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Australia 279 and 320-7 dec England 212 and 92

Australia win by 295 runs It has now reached the point where victory over England does not even rate the traditional rush for a souvenir stump - a little bit like anglers throwing back minnows. Only three were plucked from the ground here yesterday, and while one was tucked under Shane Warne's arm, and another under Craig McDermott's, no one seemed to know who had collected the third. The most likely candidate is Michael Atherton, who may shortly be using it to drive a stake through his heart.

Atherton's countenance yesterday was a curious mixture of the totally hacked-off and completely bemused as he was forced to squirm through a series of post-match press conferences that lasted considerably longer than the 56 minutes it took England to lose their last six wickets.

Defeat, with a grain or two of honour, is nothing to be ashamed of, but this continual ritual humiliation at the hands of England's deadliest enemy is too much to bear. The days when Australia used to sledge have long gone, as sledging is a mark of respect. Now all they do is snigger.

Eight years ago, at the start of Mike Gatting's tour, the boot was so firmly on the other foot that Allan Border was prone to explode at press conferences. "How do you feel AB?", Border was asked after losing the Brisbane Test. "How the bleeping hell do yer think I bleeping well feel?", came the memorable reply. Atherton has not yet blown up, but the blue touch paper is definitely smouldering.

It scarcely helps that Atherton's questioning only begins after he has listened to Mark Taylor, Warne, McDermott, and whoever else has just stuck it up the Poms, dishing out the standard "we won't be easing up in the next one . . . don't write-off these

Poms . . . long way to go yet" kind of reply. Atherton, deep down, knows that the more honest answer would be "Jeez, we're a little surprised they decided to send over the Milton Keynes 2nd XI", and those cherubic features will not survive three more spankings before it is time for home.

Not even Keith Fletcher's claim that Warne is the only essential difference between these sides stands up to statistical scrutiny. Since England retained the Ashes on this ground in 1989, England have lost eight Ashes Tests without Warne on the opposing side (won nil), and lost six (won one) when Warne has been playing. Australia could probably replace Warne and McDermott with Skippy and the Flying Doctor and it still would not make a hoot of difference.

Warne could not even win the man of the match award here despite becoming the first bowler to perform the hat-trick in an Ashes Test since Hugh Trumble, also at the MCG, in 1903-04. As Warne's final victim was Devon Malcolm, one or two historians might query whether Warne has a legitimate claim, and it may not be too long before any Australian feat against England is ruled out on the grounds that the opposition cannot be recognised as first-class.

Australia's fourth-day declaration left England with a survival period of eight hours and 120 overs. In the event, England were bowled out in three hours and four minutes and 42.5 overs. However, their final total of 92 suggests that they are twice as good this winter as last, when they made only half that many against Curtly Ambrose in Trinidad.

The final margin here was 295 runs, almost respectable by current standards, and it was the first time they had been bowled out by Australia for under 100 since their 95 all out in the first innings of the Centenary Test in Melbourne in 1977. Melbourne was also the venue when they last made a lower total against Australia, 87 all out on the 1958-59 tour.

England, resuming on 79 for 4, could not even make a respectable fist of it despite making one of their better starts. Having dismissed Graham Gooch with the first ball of the third day's play, Australia were doubtless wondering where their next wicket was coming from yesterday before Mike Gatting was out to the second ball of the day.

It was a decent delivery from McDermott which bounced enough to take the edge to Taylor at first slip, at which point Alec Stewart came out to bat for the second time in the match with a strapped, injected, broken right index finger. Fletcher had said the previous day that Stewart would only bat if there was a chance of saving the match, which suggested that England are even more hopelessly confused than we suspected.

Stewart manfully stuck it out for eight not out, although the only partner who remained long enough to strike up a conversation was Stephen Rhodes. Rhodes made 16 before edging McDermott to second slip and his form in this series (with bat and gloves) cannot make him entirely fireproof from losing his place to Jack Russell when he arrives on Sunday.

Warne's hat-trick came with the fourth, fifth and sixth deliveries of his 13th over, beginning with his second dismissal of DeFreitas. In the first innings, DeFreitas had been stumped by about six yards, a fate he was so determined to avoid again that hewas lbw about four inches in front of his stumps.

Darren Gough, one of the rare pluses in this game, was beautifully caught by Ian Healy and when Malcolm strode out for the hat-trick ball, Warne must have thought it was his birthday. In point of fact, it was David Boon's 34th birthday and the chunky Tasmanian duly secured Warne's hat-trick with a brilliant one-handed catch at short leg as Malcolm offered one of his vaguer prods.

Malcolm has never before been given the accolade of a full- scale tactical conference before taking guard but after Warne had digested all the advice, he finally plumped for his stock ball, the leg-break.

Warne made his decison after consulting Damien Fleming, who recently took a hat-trick in the series against Pakistan. Fleming revealed that his approach was basically to shut his eyes and hope for the best. Malcolm, for whom it rarely matters whether he shuts his eyes or not, duly obliged off bat and pad.

Next over, McDermott finished it off by finding Tufnell's outside edge and, although he collected the man of the match award, got a little huffy at the press conference when Warne had clocked up about 37 questions to his none. Both wear gold studs in their left ear, but there is no real comparison in superstar status.

As for England, they flew to Sydney last night with Atherton making the customary noises about "hoping to put a few more runs on the board and put Australia under pressure for a change". This is what he said after Brisbane and, if the tape recording is any different before they fly to Adelaide, there will also be a squadron of pigs taking off from the same airport.

SCOREBOARD (Final day; England won toss)

ENGLAND - Second Innings (Overnight 79 for 4)

M W Gatting c Taylor b McDermott 25

(85 min, 72 balls, 2 fours)

S J Rhodes c M Waugh b McDermott 16

(93 min, 72 balls)

A J Stewart not out 8

(53 min, 29 balls)

P A J DeFreitas lbw b Warne 0

(3 min, 4 balls)

D Gough c Healy b Warne 0

(1 min, 1 ball)

D E Malcolm c Boon b Warne 0

(2 min, 1 ball)

P C R Tufnell c Healy b McDermott 0

(3 min, 4 balls)

Extras (lb2,nb3) 5

Total (184 min, 42.5 overs) 92

Fall (cont): 5-81 (Gatting), 6-88 (Rhodes), 7-91 (DeFreitas), 8-91 (Gough), 9-91 (Malcolm), 10-92 (Tufnell).

Bowling: McDermott 16.5-5-42-5 (nb3) (10-2-32-2, 6.5-3-10-3); Fleming 9-1-24-2 (6-1-15-2, 3-0-9-0); Warne 13-6-16-3 (5-1-11-0, 2-0-2-0, 6-5-3-3); May 4-1-8-0 (one spell).

Progress: Innings closed 11.56am.

Australia won by 295 runs Umpires: S A Bucknor and S G Randell.

TV Replay Umpire: W P Sheahan.

Match Referee: J R Reid.

Man of the match: C J McDermott.