Shane Warne bids farewell to his home ground after his Man-of-the-Match performance
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The only thing more consistent than England's batting failures in this series has been their insistence that "there's a lot of heart and pride in our dressing-room". Unfortunately, nothing of the sort transferred itself to the middle on the third day at Melbourne, as Australia rampaged to victory by an innings and 99 runs with two whole days of the Test to spare.
The victory was Australia's 11th win in a row, their 15th out of 16 (with one draw) since the 2005 Ashes, and the team will regroup in the New Year needing one last win at Sydney to become the first side since Warwick Armstrong's Australians in 1920-21 to achieve an Ashes whitewash.
England's surrender was as abject as anything yet witnessed on this tour. Facing a first-innings deficit of 260, a figure boosted by a farewell cameo of 40 not out from the irrepressible Shane Warne, they stumbled from 0 for 41 to 161 all out in a measly 51 overs. Only Andrew Strauss provided any meaningful resistance with an three-hour 31, but when he fell to the fifth ball after tea, he took with him any lingering prospects of this match surviving into the fourth day.
Warne once again snuck in on the plaudits with two late wickets including his 999th in international cricket, but Australia's wrecker-in-chief was Stuart Clark. He pitched the ball up by half-a-yard to extract some prodigious swing from an otherwise well-behaved pitch, and routed England's middle-order with figures of 3 for 30 in 16 overs.
Clark's first victim was Alastair Cook, who had made just 8 when he survived one of the most stone-dead lbw appeals of Glenn McGrath's career, but he was unable to make his good fortune count. On 20, Clark nailed his off stump with a full-length, late-swinging delivery that flicked the inside-edge of a confounded bat.
Ian Bell was the next to go. He had made just 2 when McGrath struck him on the knee-roll with a offcutter that would have clipped the top of middle. It was a fair decision, but extremely marginal by the standards set by Rudi Koertzen in this match. Either way, it mattered not when Kevin Pietersen, England's last realistic hope of salvation, was bowled through the gate by a perfect offcutter from Clark. Pietersen had been belatedly promoted to No. 4 in England's order, apparently against his own wishes. After mustering an eight-ball 1, he'll doubtless be lobbying for a return whence he came.
Strauss and Paul Collingwood prevented a complete meltdown by adding 26 for the fourth wicket in 10 overs, but when Brett Lee re-entered the attack - with some less-than-complementary chants from the Barmy Army ringing in his ears - Justin Langer was perfectly positioned at short cover to intercept a fierce lofted drive from Collingwood. As he trooped off for 16, Warne warmed up for his first foray of the innings, and England's fate was well and truly sealed.
Brett Lee celebrates having Paul Collingwood caught for 16
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Warne did, however, take his time to get in on the act. It was Lee who ended Strauss's mini-vigil with a tempter outside off stump that was swished to the keeper, while Clark continued Andrew Flintoff's miserable series by curving a perfect inswinger into his back pad for 25. But the main man couldn't be kept quiet for long. Four balls after Flintoff's demise, Warne had his breakthrough, as Sajid Mahmood was adjudged lbw, somewhat harshly, for a second-ball duck. Replays suggested the ball had turned just enough to miss off stump.
All in all it had been a pretty poor match for the umpires, and Aleem Dar erred again in Warne's next over, when Steve Harmison gloved a sweep onto his chest and into the hands of first slip. Warne had to be stopped short in the celebrations for his 706th Test wicket (or the 700th, if Bill Frindall's objections count for anything) but he had his man soon enough anyway, when Harmison missed a full-bunger on middle stump and was, rightly this time, sent on his way for 4.
Chris Read, who had earlier equalled Jack Russell and Alec Stewart's Ashes record of six catches in an innings, scraped his nails further down Duncan Fletcher's dressing-room chalkboard by joining forces with that other alleged incompetent, Monty Panesar, to compile the third-highest stand of the innings.
Panesar played a fine leg-glance off Lee and a slap for four off Warne, before he lost sight off a Lee short ball from round the wicket and fenced a simple chance to Michael Clarke, the finer of two gullies. Read persevered as best he could, but eventually ran out of partners when Lee burst through Matthew Hoggard's defences to complete deserved figures of 4 for 47 - his best in 17 Tests against England.
It was an extraordinary conclusion to a Test match that, aside from one freakishly vast stand between Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds, was dominated from start to finish by the ball. Australia's engine-room of Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Gilchrist contributed just 19 runs between them, and yesterday's hero, Andrew Symonds, added just two runs to his overnight 154. And yet England somehow contrived to lose by an innings and several. The loss at Adelaide will forever be more painful, but this capitulation takes an entirely different type of biscuit.
Dismissal of the day
Stuart Clark's delivery to Kevin Pietersen was easily the best. Pietersen was promoted to No. 4 but his stay was short as the ball angled in and shot between bat and pad.
Brett Lee had been accused of throwing by the Barmy Army chanters shortly before Paul Collingwood drove him to short cover. Lee walked back to fine leg, bowed to his vocal tormentors and indicated the series score with his hands.
Explanation of the day
Nobody was at fault for the leaking of England's day-two bowling plans for Australia's batsmen. Four organisations - MCC, ECB, CA and ICC - found there was nothing sinister about the missing photocopy that ended up being read on national radio and printed in newspapers.
Duck of the day
Glenn McGrath's zero was costly in his long-running battle with Shane Warne for the most ducks in their careers. With only one Test remaining for each man, McGrath has moved into the lead with 35 to Warne's 34.
Following his 700 wickets Warne gave the crowd further reason to cheer with an unbeaten 40. Eleven runs came from one Sajid Mahmood over and Warne backed up with another nine from the same bowler. He ended his final game at the ground by being chaired off.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo