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The second day's play of the Boxing day Test match at the MCG was the microcosm of the series. Once again England played good competitive cricket, some very hard cricket and they got Australia into big trouble; at 5 for 84 it was looking as if England could miraculously head into the second innings with a bit of a lead and they did it with some very good cricket.
Andrew Flintoff got rid of his opposite number, Ricky Ponting first thing today morning - just the thing that England had to do. It was a good piece of bowling. He starved him off the short-pitched bowling and then suddenly gave him one that bounced a bit; it was a bit wider and Ponting looking to pull it from outside the off-stump skied it to midwicket and he was gone. Great start for England. Then it was Matthew Hoggard who got rid of Michael Hussey with a good delivery and I think England couldn't believe their luck that they had got Hussey out cheaply and it really buoyed their spirits. And a terrific delivery from Steven Harmison - it had lift, it bounced off a length and England had got rid of Michael Clarke.
So there we were - Australia 5 for 84 and England buoyant and right on top. As I've said, this is microcosm of the series because England's best cricket throughout this series has matched Australia's. Where they've failed to match Australia is to keep the good cricket going. They then wilted under the onslaught of Matthew Hayden who struggled and scarped his runs much like Andrew Strauss had done while scoring his 50 in the England innings.
Andrew Symonds came to the wicket with his Test career on the line because he needed to get runs to remain in the side for the Sydney Test. He took forever to get off the mark and then when he did get off the mark runs were still a struggle for him. And then after lunch I think Flintoff handed him a lifeline when he brought Monty Panesar on and pushed the field back. In Perth they had got Symonds out by keeping the field up, they didn't do it here for some strange reason - they made runs easy to come for Symonds - they made it difficult for Panesar to keep him on strike. The same thing happened when Hayden was on strike and it was easy for him to get off strike.
Monty Panesar as an attacking bowler had nowhere to attack and suddenly Symonds started to get runs, the boundaries started to flow and the confidence was back. Once he got to the half century he really took off and it was the Symonds that we see so often in one-day cricket, belting the ball to the boundary with powerful strokes and he brought up his century with a glorious straight six of Paul Collingwood and the emotion that came out there was mostly relief with the thought that I've finally scored my first century. With that he joined his great fishing mate Hayden, in fact, the one decent Test innings that Symonds has scored so far was at the MCG in partnership with Hayden against South Africa and so I think he was the ideal partner. They put on one of the bigger sixth-wicket partnerships for Australia and they took the game right out of England's hands with both of them reaching the 150-mark.
For a long time in that partnership, England played with an air of resignation. England have been saying all the right things after their losses but one thing that they might regret saying is what Paul Collingwood said after the Perth loss when he said that now it's preparation time for 2009. Am not sure that the ideal preparation starts off with a disastrous loss at the MCG because that's they're facing.
They finally got rid of Hayden - a good, lifting delivery from Sajid Mahmood - and then he got rid of Adam Gilchrist with a good delivery that left him and he edged it into the slips. Mahmood has got the skill and the ability, what is missing is the consistency. When he bowls well he can get the good batsmen out but England are not able to prolong those good patches long enough to put Australia under pressure.
Australia seem relentless I their pursuit of a 5-0 sweep. They are certainly on their way to 4-0 here at the MCG thanks to a great partnership between Hayden and Symonds.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist