England were shaken, rattled and rolled in a dramatic final hour at the MCG that was as gladiatorial as it gets.
In scenes reminiscent of Mitchell Johnson in 2013 it was another Mitchell who had England’s top order at sixes and sevens while a well lubricated crowd barracked for more Aussie torture.
With a lead of 82 in their back pocket, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins tore in at England’s openers with such skill, pace and gusto that they will almost certainly never face anything quite as challenging as this in the remainder of their careers.
The fact the 24-year-old Haseeb Hameed managed to see off Starc while his 23-year-old partner Zak Crawley did not is something to be proud of.
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But the fact that he ended up falling to Scott Boland from the penultimate over takes the gloss off that minor miracle.
It meant Joe Root and Ben Stokes, captain and his vice, left the raucous arena with the score 31-4 and still trailing by 51, on a day that up until England had bats in their hands, wasn’t too bad.
There is no shame in Crawley departing for five, edging the ball through to Alex Carey behind the stumps. He played the line and it moved enough to beat him.
Dawid Malan came and went one ball later, trapped on the crease by another quick one that thudded into the pad before he had time to bring the bat anywhere near it.
The umpire’s decision to give it out was just barely upheld by the review that showed it would have just trimmed the bails. It was a rough decision to get first ball.
It meant a new experience for Root on this tour arriving with Starc on a hat-trick and the atmosphere inside the ‘G’ utterly electric even if a few of the 43,000 fans had already departed.
The England captain was given an absolute brute of a ball and even he wasn’t good enough to edge it.
Leaving the ground two down would have been a triumph after that opening burst, but on this tour there has been nothing triumphant for England and Boland removed both Hameed and the nightwatchman Jack Leach within two balls of each other.
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Leach showed he was definitely listening when the batsmen were asked to leave the ball more often, only not when it was zeroing in on off stump.
Perhaps it was a suitably chaotic finish to a chaotic day that began with the news that four members of the England tour party had registered positive covid tests which delayed the start by 30 minutes.
With a negative round of results on their lateral flow tests, England’s players made a bright start, Ollie Robinson removing nightwatchman Nathan Lyon with a regulation edge behind before Mark Wood captured the No.1 batsman Marnus Labuschagne for a fitting 1.
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The extra pace of Wood unsettled every batsman he bowled at and early in his innings Labuschagne was no different as he was squared up before edging to Root at slip.
Marcus Harris had endured a miserable series up to this point, but he finally came to the party to register his third Test fifty, even though he needed a review to help him survive an lbw decision against Anderson when he had made 36.
Anderson accounted for Steve Smith when he inside edged one and it flicked the off bail, which showed that England had both the skills and the conditions that could make life very difficult for the Aussies.
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Robinson fired up to take Head’s edge to one he should have left well alone, and inevitably Anderson got rid of Harris for 76 with a brilliant piece of bowling that gave Root his third slip catch of the day.
England were chipping away at the Aussies in a proper contest, and at 200-6 at tea, the game remained firmly in the balance, and especially so when Leach had Cam Green lbw and Stokes had Carey caught behind.
But yet again those pesky late order runs from Starc and Cummins spoiled England’s surge with 48 added for the last two wickets, and it wasn’t to be their final act of the day either.