A hard-fought Test match of many fluctuations was won by Australia with surprising ease. They were apparently in difficulties at 28 for two at the start of the last day, but Marsh and Boon scored the remaining 169 in five hours without being parted. It was an excellent, single-minded piece of batting on a slow, low-bouncing pitch, and showed what could be done by concentrating on strokes which could be played with a straight bat. Had England's batsmen followed the same principles, the best Australia could have hoped for would have been a draw; instead they indulged in what the team manager, in understandable irritation, described as fifty minutes of madness after tea on the fourth day, when Reid and Matthews shared six wickets in twelve overs while 3 runs were scored.
Reid, who had never taken more than four wickets in an innings in nineteen Tests, came out of his twentieth with six for 97 and seven for 51, without seeming to bowl any better than when he took two for 101 for Western Australia at the beginning of the tour. His height, deceptive changes of pace, left-arm-over angle and control made him a bowler any team would welcome. Yet there was little sign of the in-swing that gave England such problems against Western Australia and in the First Test at Brisbane. At Melbourne he slanted the ball across the batsmen and waited for mistakes: nine of his wickets came from catches off the outside edge from balls missing the off stump. For England, Gower made his eighth hundred against Australia and seventeenth in all Tests, despite a badly bruised right wrist, and Fraser returned his best figures in Test cricket, six for 82, at the expense of a hip injury in a marathon of 39 overs.
This was the first match played at the MCG since the demolition of the Southern Stand, which reduced capacity to 60,000 and opened up a view of leafy Yarra Park. The removal of this 200-yard wind-break may have added to the ball's reluctance to swing. While Australia fielded their Brisbane side, Gooch's return for Lamb, still hobbling from his calf injury, was one of the three England changes. Tufnell, winning his first cap, and Defreitas replaced the injured Small and Lewis.
When Atherton and Gooch were dismissed in the first 40 minutes, the captain shouldering arms to an in-coming ball from Alderman, England were in danger of wasting a good toss. But Larkins, who would have lost his place had Lamb been fit, spent three and threequarter hours patiently building a platform for recovery before giving Healy the second of five first-innings catches, nibbling at Reid. Gower, taking pain-killers, was smoothly in command, and added 122 with the impetuous but lucky Stewart before being caught off the splice, mistiming a leg-side turn two balls after completing his hundred. He had batted for 254 minutes and 170 balls. Though Stewart lasted another 100 minutes, surviving a fast and short-pitched spell from Hughes, the last five wickets added only 78.
Solid batting by Taylor (256 minutes) and Border (239 minutes), plus a cameo by Jones, whose pattering 44 from 57 balls was by far the fastest scoring of the game, looked to have given Australia control when they were 259 for four at tea on the third day. However, Fraser, armed with a new ball, straightened one to hit Waugh's off stump two overs afterwards. And spurred by a piece of luck 37 minutes later, when Border was caught off a leg-glance, he bowled unchanged until the close to earn England a lead of 46. Wicket to wicket his spell was six for 23 in 13.4 overs, and on the day he took six for 34 off 26, a workload that stirred memories for the watching Alec Bedser.
Soon after lunch on the fourth day, with Gooch playing freely and Larkins (232 minutes) on the way to his second patient fifty of the match, England's one problem on the slow, low pitch looked to be dismissing Australia a second time. They remained comfortably placed at tea - 147 for four, 193 ahead. But in the first over of the final session, an ambitious drive by Stewart against Reid's angle was brilliantly taken low to his right by Marsh at gully, and the innings fell to pieces. Two catches by Atherton at gully revived English hopes before the close, and they might still have had an outside chance if, in the fourth over next morning, Malcolm had won an lbw appeal against Boon, who had moved across the stumps to play a ball to leg. Otherwise neither batsman gave England another chance until Australia were within 31 runs of victory. Tufnell was unlucky to miss a first Test wicket when Boon, cutting, edged to Russell. Marsh, steady as a rock, batted 363 minutes (257 balls) and Boon 321 minutes (234 balls) for the second highest of their six three-figure stands in Tests.
Man of the Match: B. A. Reid.
Close of play: First day, England 239-4 (D. I. Gower 73*, A. J. Stewart 42*); Second day, Australia 109-1 (M. A. Taylor 42*, D. C. Boon 18*); Third day, Australia 306; Fourth day, Australia 28-2 (G. R. Marsh 11*, D. C. Boon 8*).