Fourth Test Match

Australia v England

At Melbourne, December 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 2002. Australia won by five wickets. Toss: Australia. Test debut: M. L. Love.

With the Ashes already surrendered yet again, England made a better fist of matters at the MCG - but still lost. On an exciting final day, Australia wobbled, showing signs of their old fallibility when chasing small targets, but finally made it 4-0 with five wickets to spare.

It might have been closer: after the on-song Harmison had grabbed two wickets in his sixth over, Waugh came in, suffering from a migraine, and somehow survived a manic over from Harmison, in which he was beaten, caught behind (but no one appealed because the racket from the Barmy Army drowned out the noise of the ball kissing the bat-face), then caught off a no-ball. Waugh hadn't heard the call, and was halfway to the pavilion before he realised. The spell was broken with an emphatically driven four and, although Waugh really was out a few overs later, the moment had passed.

All this drama seemed unthinkable as Australia racked up another huge first-innings total. Langer and Hayden combined in an opening stand of 195, then a blitzkrieg from Waugh lifted Australia to 356 for three, the highest first-day score by one side in any Melbourne Test. Again, it might have been different: Hayden hooked his first ball from Caddick, which ballooned to long leg. But Hussain had brought Harmison in off the rope, and the ball sailed over his head for four. Hayden never looked back, clattering ten fours and three sixes -two off White into the stands over long-on - in his 12th Test hundred and his ninth in the last 14 months.

Langer rolled on to a massive 250, the highest of his 13 Test centuries. It took him 578 minutes and 407 balls, and included 30 fours; he reached his hundred with a six over long-on off Dawson. After Waugh celebrated the 17th anniversary of his Test debut with a staccato 77, studded with 15 fours - several cracked through the covers with a whipped follow-through as he sprinted to 50 in 49 balls - there was time for a mature innings from Martin Love. Fresh from two double-centuries against these tourists, for Queensland and Australia A, Love had played an Australian-record 129 first-class matches before his first Test. And, among Australians, only Lehmann, whose poisoned leg allowed the upright Love in here, had scored more runs before his debut.

Warne was also absent, after dislocating his shoulder in a one-day international on this ground on December 15, prompting a recall for his understudy, MacGill. Injuries affected England too: they had to reshuffle their side, including only four bowlers, when Stewart dropped out with a bruised hand. This meant that, for the fourth Ashes tour running, he did not keep wicket in the Melbourne Test (he played as a batsman in the previous three). Foster, his tidy replacement, did not concede a bye in Australia's big first innings, but he was quieter than Stewart might have been when that final-day catch skimmed through from Waugh. Crawley and Caddick were fit again and returned to the side.

Some spineless batting condemned England to follow on. McGrath, playing in his 54th consecutive Test to pass Courtney Walsh's record for a specialist fast bowler, removed Vaughan, then a Lee screamer accounted for Trescothick. Hussain, reprieved by the third umpire after seemingly being caught by Gillespie at mid-on when 14, added only ten more before MacGill had his revenge.

With Hussain's dismissal on the third morning, England slumped to 118 for six. But then White, playing his maiden first-class match on the ground where he cheered England on as a displaced Pommie schoolboy, collared the bowling. His 85 not out included nine fours and three sixes (all off MacGill), and almost doubled his previous aggregate against Australia - 86 runs in 11 completed innings. But it was a bittersweet knock: White batted in the painful knowledge that he had twanged an intercostal muscle while bowling. Apart from his second innings, he played no further part in the tour.

Following on 281 behind, England faced an unprecedented third successive innings defeat. They lost Trescothick for his second promising 37 of the match, one of five wickets for the persevering MacGill and one of several dubious decisions from umpire Tiffin. But Vaughan ploughed on, pulling imperiously and cover-driving as if he had been studying videos of Colin Cowdrey. He purred to 145, with 19 fours and three sixes, out of 236. On the way, he eclipsed Dennis Amiss's England record of 1,379 runs in a calendar year, and he finished with 1,481, an annual aggregate exceeded only by Viv Richards (1,710 in 1976) and Sunil Gavaskar (1,555 in 1979). Vaughan's second century of the series, like Hayden's his sixth of 2002, stamped him as a player of the utmost class. The Australians paid him their highest compliment: they stopped sledging him.

A plucky maiden half-century from Key swelled the total, but a characteristic collapse, in which the last five tumbled for only 45, meant Australia's target was a seemingly simple 107. But Langer seemed unable to time a thing, and Caddick - ineffective in the first innings, as so infuriatingly often - suddenly clicked into top gear. Hayden swung the first ball of the final day to Tudor, the substitute, on the square-leg boundary. Later, Caddick had Waugh gloving into the slips, and wrung another dubious decision out of Tiffin to trap Langer leg-before.

In between, Harmison worked up a head of steam, beating Ponting and Martyn for pace in the space of four balls. But Gilchrist stopped the rot, popping the winning four over point in the 24th over. The thrilling last morning was fine fare - and free - for a crowd of 18,666. The match total was an impressive 177,658, despite the loss of a chunk of the stands on the railway side of the MCG as rebuilding rumbled on.

There was one final Australian record: this was Waugh's 33rd win in just 44 Tests as captain, passing Allan Border's 32 wins in 93 matches, and closing in on the all-time record of 36 in 74 by Clive Lloyd.

Man of the Match: J. L. Langer. Attendance: 177,658.

Close of play: First day, Australia 356-3 (Langer 146, Waugh 62); Second day, England 97-3 (Hussain 17, Dawson 0); Third day, England 111-2 (Vaughan 55, Hussain 8); Fourth day, Australia 8-0 (Langer 4, Hayden 1).

© John Wisden & Co