England’s brief resistance came crashing down in an extraordinary final hour at the MCG as Australia closed in on securing the Ashes inside just 12 days of play.
Australia took four English scalps in the last 58 minutes of day two of the third Test to leave the tourists on the brink at 4-31, still requiring another 51 runs to make Pat Cummins’ men bat again.
Mitchell Starc (2-11) narrowly missed out on a hat-trick after his stunning spell put Australia on the verge of taking an unassailable 3-0 series advantage after 13 wickets tumbled at the MCG on Monday.
After England’s bowlers produced a gritty fightback to knock over the hosts for 267, its batters again had no answers to Australia’s all-star pace attack.
Scott Boland (2-1) backed up Starc’s heroics by cleaning up opener Haseeb Hameed, then nightwatchman Jack Leach two balls later, to have the Melbourne crowd roaring for the Victorian debutant.
Star all-rounder Ben Stokes had to come out and survive a painful five-minute period before stumps.
Starc dismissed opener Zak Crawley and stoic No.3 Dawid Malan in consecutive balls to leave England in an all-too familiar position.
Joe Root (12no) was left to face the hat-trick ball, which the England captain just avoided edging to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
“It was absolutely bouncing … 40,000 in the crowd felt like 100,000 when Starc was on the hat-trick,” Australia opener Marcus Harris said.
“That was something you dream of as a kid to be a part of.”
Earlier, irrepressible veteran Jimmy Anderson (4-33 from 23 overs) put in one of his best performances on Australian soil to give England an outside chance of keeping the series alive heading to Sydney.
Australia’s first-innings lead of 82 paled in comparison to the first two Tests when they were 278 and 237 runs ahead respectively.
The MCG pitch is already tricky to bat on so Australia could become nervous with even a modest fourth-innings chase, but it would take something to rival Stokes’ Headingley classic in 2019 to make that even a possibility.
Embattled opener Harris’ 76 top scored as Australia had trouble batting in response to England’s first-innings total of 185.
After entering the match playing for his spot, Harris posted the third half-century – and the first since January 2019 – of his 13-Test career.
The 29-year-old rode his luck during the 189-ball stay, rarely looking at ease.
Regardless, the innings will give Australian selectors added faith to persist with the left-hander for the remainder of the Ashes.
After early dramas at England’s team hotel, the tourists put together their most competitive day in the field of what has been a diabolical series.
The team was initially ordered to isolate in their rooms due to a family group member testing positive to COVID-19.
But England’s entire XI quickly returned negative rapid tests and were cleared to head to the ground and take to the field 30 minutes later than scheduled.
Anderson was comfortably the pick of England’s bowlers, but received solid support from Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood, who claimed two wickets each.
“I thought we did really well to stick at our task throughout the day,” Anderson said.
“If we’re being honest, I think in our first innings we should have got something near that (267). It certainly felt possible on that wicket.
“We knew the last 12 overs was going to be tough with the new ball, but even so to lose four wickets was really disappointing.”