One of the worst Australian performances ever witnessed at the MCG. Batting first Australia were humiliated, bowled out for 98 before tea on Day 1 with James Anderson and Chris Tremlett taking 4 wickets each. England replied with a magnificent 513 with Johnathan Trott the star making 168 not out batting at number 3. He was ably supported by half centuries to Strauss, Cook and Prior. Peter Siddle was tireless for Australia taking 6/75, whilst Ryan Harris limped from the ground on Day 3 with a broken ankle and Mitchell Johnson was at his profligate worst going for 134 off 29 overs.
Australia showed a modicum of spine in their second innings struggling along to 258 before succumbing before lunch on Day 4. England had won the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1986/87 and the players celebrated by performing a sprinkler dance in front of Bay 13 led by Graeme Swann. An unusual sight on that fourth morning was England fans complaining about having to pay to get in to the MCG to see England take the final 3 wickets to win the Ashes. Outrageous! It cost $28 which was about 18GPD. Try going to a day of test cricket for that in England!
How things change in just a few years. In 2006 England were a rudderless broken down, leaky old tub ready to be scuttled. By the time the 4th test of the series rolled around at the MCG, Andrew Flintoff (what an inspired choice of captain he was – Note: Andrew Strauss was in the same team but was overlooked) and his men were 3-0 down and staring at 5-0 series whitewash. For the purpose of shuffling the deckchairs on the titanic England brought in a new keeper, Chris Reed, and gave Saj Mahmood another run just for the hell of it. Shane Warne was pretty much writing his own script by this stage and he bowled Andrew Strauss thorough the gate to take his 700th test wicket in front of a monstrous home town Boxing Day crowd of 84,000. England were rolled for 159 thanks to Warne’s 5/39 and in reply Australia were in trouble at 5/84 before Andrew Symonds joined Matthew Hayden at the crease. The two Queenslanders put on a partnership of 289 with both batsmen scoring 150s and Australia had managed 419 despite only two other batsmen making double figures, 27 to Langer and Warne who biffed a 54 ball 40.
England rolled over like a playful puppy dog in their second innings managing just 161. Australia had won in 3 days and now led the Ashes 4-0. Of course in front of his home crowd at the MCG for the final time, Shane Warne was Man of the Match.
Australia batted first and Hayden and Langer began proceedings with a 195 opening stand. Hayden made 102 but Langer decided to fill his boots making 250 in a Man of the Match performance. Martin Love, on test debut replacing the omitted Darren Lehmann, made an assured 62 not out batting at number 6. Australia declared at 6/551 and in reply England could only muster 270 with Craig White top scoring with 85. Forced to follow on England did fare better in their second innings making 387 thanks to 145 to Michael Vaughan, leaving Australia needing 107 for victory. Despite a very strong team chasing small 4th innings totals had been Australia’s kryptonite in this era. Australia struggled along to the target losing 5 wickets along the way but secured victory none the less. It could have been very different – Steve Waugh smashed one through to the keeper but there was only a stiffled appeal, at best, from behind the stumps. Waugh stood his ground, waiting for the umpires verdict and accepted the not out decision despite the protest of England’s captain Nasser Hussain. And to think Stuart Broad is now the ultimate pantomime villain for having done the same. Australia now led the Ashes 4-0.
On Boxing Day 1998 play was completely washed out meaning an extra hour was added at the start of each of the subsequent days play. On Day 2 Australia won the toss and Mark Taylor elected to field. For England skipper Alec Stewart elected to hand over the gloves to debutant Warren Hegg so he could focus on the dual roles of opening batsmen and captain. It worked with Stewart making 107 to provide the spine to England total of 270 all out. In reply Australia were in trouble at 5/151before Steve Waugh performed another rearguard manoeuvre, his signature during the1990s, not just shepherding the tail but giving them confidence and building partnerships with an unlikely allie in Stuart MacGill who made 43. Waugh even retrieved the long forgotten hook shot from his kit bag awkwardly swatting away a couple of boundaries as he remained 122 not out in Australia’s total of 340 with Darren Gough taking 5/96. In their second innings England managed just 244 thanks to half centuries to Hick, Hussain and Stewart with Australian fast bowler Matthew Nicholson playing his one and only test taking 3 wickets. Australia had been set a 4th innings target of 175 for victory and they were travelling along nicely at 2/102 with Justin Langer and Mark Waugh having combined for a 61 run partnership. Mark Ramprakash pulled off a stunning one handed catch at square leg to dismiss Langer and Australia began to crumble. Australia lost 8/62 to lose by 12 runs with Steve Waugh left high and dry on 30 not out. Australia had lost 3/0 at one point and 4 of the last 5 batsmen made ducks. It was another 4th innings chased blown by Australia and a case of what could have been. At the end of England’s second innings a fired up Glenn McGrath lost his cool and tried to bounce out England Number 11 bunny Alan Mullally. Mullally, who had managed 4 consecutive ducks prior to this innings managed to swat away four boundaries to reach 16 before being dismissed. Australia’s final margin of defeat was just 12 runs.
England’s attack was spearheaded by Dean Headley who took Man of the Match honours with 6/60 but also included the tediously painful to watch Angus Fraser. After a slower than walking pace return to the top of his bowling mark, which for reasons best known to Fraser was further back than Brett Lee’s, Fraser would then start a slow, ponderous and elongated jaunt of his uniquely slow ‘running’ gaite up to the wicket before delivering a harmless 120 km/h nothing ball. And repeat five times, all the while huffing and puffing like he was baking under desert like heat when in fact it was 20 degrees at the MCG. Fraser’s overs took an eternity to bowl, eliciting slow hand claps from the crowd, and were a major factor in the last days play being one of the longest in Test history. The first ball was at 10:00am and England secured victory shortly before 7pm. The Ashes was now 2-1 Australia’s way after 4 tests.
Day 1 of this MCG test was not on Boxing Day, it was on Christmas Eve, Saturday December 24 with Christmas Day a rest day before play resumed on Boxing Day. It was also only the second test of the 1994/95 Ashes. Australia batting first managed 279 thanks to Steve Waugh’s 94 not out and England replied with 212 taken apart Shane Warne’s 6/64. In Australia’s second innings David Boon scored 131 with Australia declaring at 7/320 to set England a victory target of 368. They didn’t get close with Craig McDermott taking 5/42 and Shane Warne claiming a hatrick on the 5th morning to clean up the tail and roll England for just 92.