Aussies destroy England in fourth Test

After looking forward to the start of the series in Brisbane with such excitement and optimism, England supporters now can’t wait for the end of the Sydney Test as a tour with too many moments of agony and far too few glimpses of hope. After putting in an improved effort in Adelaide and also in Perth until Adam Gilchrist’s brutal assault on the brittle confidence of the bowling attack ripped the Ashes from their tenuous grasp, the visitors slumped to as bad a loss as they have experienced on tour in Melbourne, succumbing within three days and proving effective only at ensuring the dream script for Shane Warne’s final MCG Test became a reality.

After collapsing to 159 on the first day, with Warne taking five and moving to 704 Test wickets, England gave their loyal followers something to celebrate as they ripped through what has at times seemed an impenetrable Australian batting lineup to reduce Australia to 84-5, but from there Australia once again took control. The 270-run stand between Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds on the second day ensured that Australia were dominant favourites as play began on the third day, with Symonds unbeaten on 154. England needed several early breakthroughs to remain in the contest, and looked set to achieve it when they removed Symonds for a new highest score of 156, equal to his ODI best.

But Warne decided he hadn’t had enough of the spotlight for this Test, following his bowling heroics with an impressive and quick unbeaten 40, a knock which may have provided brief hope for his devoted home-town supporters that he may at last get that elusive Test century at the most perfect time. But it wasn’t to be as England cleaned up the remaining wickets at the other end, removing Stuart Clark and Glenn McGrath for single-figure scores to leave Warne stranded. Although there are few good points in the Test for England, Chris Read’s six catches in the innings and Sajid Mahmood’s four wickets were worthy of recognition.

With the match going so perfectly for Warne it was a surprise that he didn’t figure in the wickets in the early part of England’s second innings, beginning with the visitors 260 runs in arrears. After a 41-run opening stand Clark provided the breakthrough with the wicket of Alistair Cook, then McGrath removed Ian Bell and Clark took his second with the crucial wicket of Kevin Pietersen.

Brett Lee then rose to the challenge of taking the almost as important wickets of Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood, and when Clark again showed his remarkable wicket-taking ability in removing the ever-dangerous Andrew Flintoff it seemed that Warne may get shut out of the wickets completely. But that was never going to happen in his last MCG test as Warne removed Sajid Mahmood and Stephen Harmison in quick succession and reduced England to 127-8 and on the verge of a crushing innings defeat.

When Panesar fell for a lively 14 to reduce the score to 146-9 with 13 overs left to survive until stumps, the close of play on the third day felt like an age away to England supporters, and it proved to be too long a period for the last pair to survive as Brett Lee completed the victory with his fourth wicket to keep Ricky Ponting’s dream of an unprecedented 5-0 series win alive. The only thing that wasn’t perfect for Shane Warne in the match was that Lee got in the way of him taking the final wicket in his final match on his home ground. But with the Ashes won and his remarkable milestone of 700 wickets being brought up at the MCG, there’s very little he can complain about.

With the Ashes well and truly gone, England will only be playing for pride and to avoid a whitewash in the fifth and final Test in Sydney on Tuesday.

England 159 all out
Andrew Strauss 50, Paul Collingwood 28
Shane Warne 5-39, Stuart Clark 2-27

Australia 419 all out
Andrew Symonds 156, Matthew Hayden 153
Sajid Mahmood 4-100, Andrew Flintoff 3-77

England 161 all out
Andrew Strauss 31, Chris Read 26 no
Brett Lee 4-51, Stuart Clark 3-30

Australia won by an innings and 99 runs.

Cricket Web Player of the Match – Shane Warne (5-39, 40 no, 2-46)

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