Melbourne, Dec 27 (IANS) England recovered from a poor position on Boxing Day to edge in front by reducing Australia to 164 for nine on day two of the fourth Ashes Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground here Friday.
Asked to defend an inadequate first innings total of 255, the English bowlers were at last able to employ the strangling tactics that served them so well in their climb to the top of the ICC Test rankings.
They were aided in this endeavour by an MCG pitch that continues to offer slowish bounce and makes stroke-making difficult, as well as some indifferent Australian batting that left the home side trailing by 91 runs at stumps and staring at a first-innings deficit for the first time in the series.
If not for the patience and resilience of opener Chris Rogers, who top scored with 61 in almost four hours, the Australian innings would have been a total disaster as the top-order once again folded cheaply.
Not for the first time in a campaign dominated regularly by the ball, the only player able to make batting appear rather easy was Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who was unbeaten with 43 from 49 balls at the close.
Rogers, who was struck a frightening blow flush on the batting helmet by Stuart Broad, was the only member of Australia’s top six to reach 20 as the England bowlers dried up scoring options and induced regular mistakes.
None of those are likely to be more costly than George Bailey’s, as the Tasmanian’s lean run has been effectively papered over by the fact his team has been winning.
The right-hander’s torturous 19-ball duck ended amid conjecture after the use of ‘real-time snicko’ technology.
Despite earning some credit points for taking the attack to England’s under-siege bowlers in previous Tests, Bailey has failed to deliver in Brisbane, Perth and now Melbourne when called to the wicket with his team half out and less than 150 on the board.
Instead, it’s been left to Haddin to add some steel to the base of his team’s spine.
The vice-captain was a beneficiary of the review system when, on 35, he was adjudged lbw after he pushed forward to Monty Panesar and failed to make contact.
Indeed, the surrender of Australia’s top order was only exceeded in meekness by the capitulation of England’s tail in the face of another hostile spell from Mitchell Johnson.
With Pietersen at the crease and unbeaten on 67 overnight, England were looking to add significantly to their total of 226 for six on resumption.
But that plan was hastily revised when Tim Bresnan failed to negotiate Johnson’s first ball of the morning, and jettisoned completely when Pietersen underwent a brain snap four balls later, having decided a schoolboy slog was a better option than resetting himself and building a score.
As Johnson steamrolled his way to his third five-wicket haul of the series, England lost their final four wickets for just 29 in less than an hour.
It was a collapse that set the tone for the day.