England rounded off the perfect Boxing Day in the fourth Ashes Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in front of a record 90,000-strong crowd. Openers Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook took their side to 157/0 at stumps, already with a lead of 59 over Australia.
Strauss and Cook were determined to give England a decent start, wary of not mimicking the mistakes that Australia had made in their first innings. Cook struck the first four off Ryan Harris in the 4th over past third man and then in the 6th over, spanked a long-hop from Mitchell Johnson for another boundary over gully. Strauss then got into the act, smashing the same two bowlers for a four each as England had moved to 42/0 in 10 overs.
The tourists crossed the 50-run mark in the 14th over, when Strauss struck first-change bolwer Peter Siddle, for a boundary past wide mid-on. A few quiet overs followed till in the 23rd over, Cook got after Ben Hilfenhaus, hitting him for two boundaries, one down to long on and the other, behind point.
In the 24th over, Australia thought they had their breakthrough when Cook was adjudged leg-before to Hilfenhaus. But the batsman called for a successful review as replays showed he had inside-edged the ball onto his pads.
England kept motoring along after that hiccup and moved past 100 when Strauss hammered Shane Watson for a straight boundary. The visitors ended a rapturous and satisfying day at 157/0 in 47 overs with Strauss not out on 64 and Cook unbeaten on 80.
It was dramatic opening to the day with the English seamers instantly getting on top of the Aussie batsmen. Evidently smarting under a severe case of the jitters, opener Shane Watson was dropped twice off James Anderson before he finally perished to speedster Chris Tremlett for 5, getting caught by Kevin Pietersen at gully. Australia were 15/1 in the fourth over.
There was more drama in the 11th over when the umpire turned down England's appeal for a caught behind from Hughes. The visitors called for a decision review and replays clearly showed that the ball had only brushed Hughes' shirt on the way to the keeper. So the batsman survived and England returned to the job at hand.
Desperate to pull himself out of a slump in his batting, captain Ricky Ponting, smacked Anderson for two fours in the 13th over, courtesy two confident pull shots. But at the other end, Hughes' stand came to an end when English speedster Tim Bresnan had him snapped up by Pietersen for 16, pegging Australia back to 37/2.
In the next over, Ponting had to follow Hughes back to the shed for 10 when Tremlett had him caught by Graeme Smith in the slips. Australia were in further bother at 37/3 in 14.2 overs. The the in-form Michael Hussey and the capable Michael Clarke tried to steady the ship and strike up a decent partnership, hitting a few fours between them. But Anderson made sure there wasn't going to be a recovery when he had Hussey caught behind for 8. The hosts were in dire straights at 58/4 in 25.2 overs, when lunch was called.
The leg-spinning allrounder Steven Smith couldn't hold out for too long after the break and edged an Anderson special straight to the keeper. He was on his way for 6 as the scoreboard read a pitiful 66/5. Just four overs later, Australia's woes were compounded when Clarke got caught behind off Anderson for 20. The hosts were teetering on the brink at 77/6 in 33.4 overs. Haddin's reply to the dire situation was short-lived, as he departed in the next over to the bowling of Bresnan, for 5. Australia's tail was wide open now at 77/7 in 34.5 overs.
Mitchell Johnson couldn't manage to pull off any heroics with the bat and was on his way for a duck when Anderson had him snapped uo by the keeper, Matt Prior. At 78/8, the hosts had reached the bottom of their barrel. But new batsmen Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris tried to launch a counter-attack.
They struck a couple of boundaries between them, before Tremlett ended their brief resistance. The speedster had Siddle caught behind for 11. Australia had slumped to 92/9. Though Harris hit one more boundary, last batsman Ben Hilfenhaus, couldn't keep his end up and was caught behind off Tremlett for a duck as the hosts folded for 98 in their first innings. Anderson finished with figures of 4/44, Chris Tremlett 4/26 and Bresnan 2/25 with wicketkeeper Matt Prior taking a total of 6 catches.