Dominant England bring Ashes triumph nearer
England 0 for 157 (Cook 80*, Strauss 64*) lead Australia 98 (Tremlett 4-26, Anderson 4-44) by 59 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It was meant to be Boxing Day, not Boxing Australia Around the Ears Day. Within three sessions of complete England dominance at the MCG, they moved to within touching distance of retaining the Ashes by dismissing Australia for 98 and passing their total with no wickets down, leaving Ricky Ponting requiring a late Christmas miracle to avoid leading Australia to three Ashes series failures.
Chris Tremlett and James Anderson collected four wickets each, backing up Andrew Strauss's decision to send the hosts in, before Strauss and Alastair Cook showed that with discipline, batting wasn't that hard on a pitch with a little juice in it. The day could not possibly have gone better for England, who finished at 0 for 157 with Strauss on 64, Cook on 80, a hefty first-innings advantage in prospect and a 2-1 series lead on the horizon.
For Australia, it was up there with the opening day at Headingley against Pakistan this year, in terms of disastrous cricketing dates. Back then they chose to bat and managed only 88, but this time there was one slight difference - their dismal performance will probably cost them the Ashes. Not since 1936 had they scored a lower Ashes total at home, and that was in the days of uncovered pitches.
It took Tremlett, Anderson and Tim Bresnan less than two sessions to run through the order as they hit consistent lines and kept the runs tight. They also exposed Australia's team-wide inability to handle seam movement and swing, which is no great revelation but could not be ignored in front of 84,345 fans on the biggest day in the Australian cricket calendar.
Every batsman fell to an edge caught behind the wicket, six to the wicketkeeper Matt Prior, two to slips and two to gully. Too many men played with hard hands away from their bodies, and they struggled to work out which deliveries to leave and which ones to play. The questions that the batting coach Justin Langer must consider surround not only technique, but also judgment.
England picked up four wickets before the first break and in one particularly impressive patch they collected 3 for 0, as Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson all failed to make solid contact with the face of the bat. A rain delay had extended lunch by nearly an hour, but even that wasn't enough to help the Australians survive until the scheduled tea break.
But England's bowlers certainly earned their wickets, especially the early strikes. Shane Watson was dropped twice on 0, as Paul Collingwood at slip and Kevin Pietersen at gully denied Anderson an early breakthrough. It was a sign of things to come, and Watson had only made 5 when he was surprised by sharp bounce from Tremlett and fended a loopy catch to Pietersen.
Soon afterwards, Phillip Hughes (16) tried to cover-drive and edged to gully to hand Bresnan his first Ashes wicket, and without further addition to the score the Australians also lost Ricky Ponting. Again it was the rising ball from Tremlett that did the job, and this one nipped away significantly off the pitch, so much so that Ponting, on 10, did well to even get bat on ball as his edge flew to second slip.
Australia's recent saviour, Michael Hussey, joined the procession in the last over before lunch, when Anderson produced a pearler that moved away from Hussey and found a thin edge through to Prior. Then came the rain, an early and prolonged lunch, and after the break the dismissals got a bit softer, as Australia's middle order failed to exercise due caution.
The hosts want Steven Smith in the side for his energy and all-round talent, but as a Test No. 6 his technique needs a lot of work, and all it took was a probing delivery outside off stump from Anderson to draw an edge behind when Smith had 6. The top scorer Michael Clarke, who made 20, also wafted outside off at a ball he could have left, and edged behind off Anderson.
And 5 for 77 soon became 8 for 77 when Haddin drove at Bresnan and gave Strauss a catch at first slip, before Johnson tickled a catch to Prior off Anderson. A few late runs came via Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle before Tremlett finished off the tail to finish with 4 for 26, a much deserved return after he was the best of the bowlers early, extracting bounce from a pitch expected to be as stodgy as leftover Christmas pudding.
By the time Australia bowled, it looked like any spice in the pudding had lost its kick. In reality, they just didn't bowl well enough, while Cook and Strauss defended solidly and left the right balls, also ticking the score along by chasing the bad deliveries, like an uppish cut to the vacant third-man area from Cook when he was given width.
That Strauss and Cook both registered half-centuries before stumps was the perfect finale for the visitors, and Cook was already within sight of his third hundred of the series. Australia's four-man pace attack had little impact - Michael Beer was made 12th man again - and by the close, Smith had tossed up a few overs of unthreatening legbreaks, including one that was slog-swept almost for six by Cook.
Smith wasn't born last time England won the Ashes in Australia, in 1986-87. He's about to see it happen first-hand.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo