Writing on the wall and in the sky
Ponting's comings and goings
Ponting's arrival at the crease was a thunderous moment. As he emerged from the pavilion for what could conceivably be his final Test innings at the MCG, he was greeted by a wall of boos which slowly but surely were drowned out by the most raucous of cheers. Where previously he had attempted to blast his way back to form, this time he took the attritional route, as he waited 15 deliveries for his first runs before doubling his tally with a thick inside-edge off James Anderson. On 5, he steered Chris Tremlett through gully to pass 100 runs for the series, but at no stage did he look remotely settled. The end, when it came, was poignant, as he inside-edged Tim Bresnan into his stumps, and departed the stage head bowed, a great champion laid low for what must be close to the final time.
After his staggering feats of batsmanship in the first three Tests, which included a career-best 195, a matchwinning 116, and fifty-plus scores in each of his other three innings, Michael Hussey was due a failure or two. The trouble is, such is the paucity of Australia's batting strength at present, his team could not afford for him to fail. Sure enough, after making 8 in the first innings, he didn't even get off the mark this time around, as Bresnan buzzed around his off stump from his relentless and subtly swinging full length, and Ian Bell at short cover swooped to gather a tentative poke from the seventh ball of his stay. It was the moment of the match as far as England's fielders were concerned, and from that moment on, no-one thought to doubt that the Ashes were in the bag.
Shane Watson makes delightful half-centuries but just can't go on. Since he was turned into an opener last year he has reached fifty 16 times in 34 innings, but only twice has he gone on to three figures. It happened again today as he moved relatively smoothly to 54 - his fourth half-century of the campaign - before running out of energy. Shortly after tea he padded up to Bresnan, who had been angling the ball in, and was lbw. He tried a referral, but was soon on his way, with Australia craving so much more.
Pain in Australia's side
Run-outs always hurt, but the damage is much greater when the victim is fighting to stay in the team. Phillip Hughes' dismissal was particularly painful because it wasn't his fault. Watson pushed Graeme Swann to the left of Jonathan Trott and set off, leaving Hughes in a futile sprint to reach his ground. He left with 23 as Australia lost an unnecessary wicket early in their attempt to score the 415 needed to force England to bat again. "It's a horrendous feeling to be involved in it," Watson said in accepting the blame. "Especially for a young guy trying to show what he can do on the international stage." Hughes, who has also posted 2, 12 and 16 since being recalled, now has to wait to learn whether he'll be needed for Sydney.
A novel proposal
The writing may have been on the wall for Australia's cricketers, but midway through the afternoon session, it was also in the sky, as a lone microlight twisted and turned in the heavens above the Great Southern Stand, to spell out a message for one (presumably) lucky lady. Over the course of several minutes, a stream of white smoke belched out the message: "Marry ... me ... Kerri", the final part of which was completed long after the first half had been blown away in the breeze. For what it is worth, the ABC commentator Kerry O'Keeffe politely declined the offer.
Hilfenhaus strikes at last
Ben Hilfenhaus has done a lot of hard work in this series for not much reward, but he doubled his series tally with 2 for 83 from 37 overs. Hilfenhaus had managed only a wicket in each of his two previous Tests despite delivering 72 overs of economical swing bowling. So he was a relieved man when Graeme Swann edged a bouncer behind and Chris Tremlett was bowled by one tailing in. He would have been even happier if the wickets had come before England had reached 500.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo and Peter English is the Australasia editor