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Lyon puts Australia in sight of 4-0

Offspinner sparks dramatic collapse as England bowled out for 179; Australia ends third day on 30 without loss chasing 231

Lyon puts Australia in sight of 4-0 - Cricket News
Nathan Lyon of Australia picked up his 100th Test wicket with the dismissal of Stuart Broad.
England surrendered a solid gold chance to set up a comeback victory, but the fourth Ashes match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground remained in the balance after a pulsating day of Test cricket on Saturday (December 28). A boiling Melbourne day was dramatic enough, switching from blustery northern wind to southerly gale, but the action on the pitch more than matched the meteorological intensity.
 
Australia started and ended the third day at the crease, but that wasn’t down to a world-record tenth-wicket partnership. An England innings was sandwiched in between, after Australia’s last-wicket stand in the morning session. Entering the second innings with a lead of 51, and beginning strongly with an opening stand of 65, England was on track to set an imposing target, but Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Johnson engineered collapses - first of three top-order wickets for one run, then the final five wickets for six, undoing the early efforts of Alastair Cook and the late resistance of Kevin Pietersen to bring down England for 179.
 
By stumps Australia’s opening pair had knocked off 30 of the required runs, leaving them 201 to chase on the fourth day. England, with its fanatical support in the stands reaching its loudest during its late-day adversity, will need to induce tremors in the Australian batting to match those suffered by its own.
 
It was a breakthrough day from Lyon in more ways than one. Today he took his first five-wicket haul on Australian soil, having done so twice overseas. All series he has been the quiet contributor, taking at least one wicket in every innings, but always the afterthought to the pace attack. Today he took centre stage, eliciting thoughtless strokes to dismiss Ian Bell in the initial collapse, Perth centurion Ben Stokes when well set, Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad in one over, then the obdurate Pietersen. Even until that final wicket, England needed just one partnership to set a testing lead. Lyon denied it that chance.
 
But behind every great man is a great moustachioed fast bowler, and Lyon was carried on the momentum his pace colleague created. Three wickets, a catch, and the cannon-armed run out of Joe Root, and Johnson was making his best case for being the new Andrew Flintoff, the colossus who is somehow everywhere in an Ashes win.
 
With 31 wickets and a Test yet to play, Johnson is the first man to top 30 in a Test series since Shane Warne in 2005. McGrath, Walsh and Muralitharan are the only others to have done it this millennium. Australia’s strike weapon has joined elite company.
 
It all started so brightly for England. Cook was off to by far his most composed start of the series, driving Ryan Harris to the boundary, then Lyon twice when Michael Clarke sprung a surprise bowling change in the seventh over. Curiously, Johnson only bowled two overs first up, then wasn’t seen until the last over before lunch, with Clarke meanwhile rotating through all of his bowlers including a clearly hampered Shane Watson.
 
Watson nonetheless would have had the wicket of Michael Carberry, had Clarke been alert enough to stand a pace closer at slip given Watson’s reduced speed. But England’s new opener dug in, making six runs out of a partnership of 65, while Cook skipped along to a half-century.
 
En route Cook became the youngest Test player to reach 8,000 runs, three weeks sooner to the mark than one Sachin Tendulkar. But that was as far as such emulation went today, with Johnson swinging one in to trap him lbw. Root was given out caught behind the same over, but the dismissal was overturned on review, with no thermal image or snickometer support.
 
Carberry limped on to 12 from 81 balls, before he was put out of his misery as Peter Siddle trapped him in front. If Johnson had been the one to push the door ajar, he forced it open three balls later. As Root drove Lyon for a single, Johnson rounded on the ball from mid-off, got it in his left hand, and smashed down the stumps from side on to find the young Yorkshireman a full yard short on the dive. A Pietersen single later, and Lyon coming round the wicket confused Bell with angle and flight, seeing him chip tamely to Johnson first ball.
 
At 87 for 4, England desperately needed a partnership, but as each one threatened, it was snuffed out. Pietersen and Stokes put on 44, but Stokes tried to loft Lyon down the ground only to skew it wider to Steve Smith at mid-off. Jonny Bairstow then helped add 42, including getting off the mark with a six, but Johnson intervened again to have him caught behind for 21.
 
Before Bairstow, England was 173 for 5. Even from there, another 80 runs or so could have set a truly testing target. A few minutes later it was out for 179. Bresnan was so clueless on the pull against Lyon that he didn’t know he’d been bowled, prompting the umpires to check if the wind was to blame. No such luck. Broad wafted a drive to be caught at slip. Both made ducks.
 
Pietersen, sensing the end was nigh, clouted down the ground but was held inside the rope by Harris. His 49 from 90 balls had been the only thing of substance in a batting mudslide. Monty Panesar was unsurprisingly lbw Johnson for nought. Few English pundits wanted to give Lyon credit for wickets to lofted shots, but it was his line, his flight and his over-spinning bounce that made him so difficult to hit cleanly.
 
The subsidence was, once again, in direct contrast to Australia’s efforts the same day. The home side’s later order has been more than an annoyance for England. Batting from No.7, Brad Haddin has scored the second-most runs in the series; the most first-innings runs; and today set a new series record for an Ashes wicketkeeper. More importantly, he has always found an ally among the bowlers.
 
As Haddin passed 50 after resuming this morning, it became his fifth such score in six innings. Cook appeared bereft of ideas, leaving the field back for Haddin, who happily took singles, then persisting with a short-pitched bowling to Lyon despite the batsman frequently exposing his stumps.
 
Edges went for runs, clouts reached the boundary, and a partnership of 40 trimmed England’s first-innings lead to 51. Haddin eventually fell for an innings-high 65 from 68 balls, with seven fours and a six that had changed the momentum of Australia’s effort. Lyon was unbeaten on 18 from 34 deliveries, bettering his position as the highest-averaging player to have batted more than 20 innings at number 11.
 
How valuable even an extra 40 runs could be for England. Even after Haddin and Lyon’s batting, it should still have been England’s match. Instead there was another disaster, with Lyon and Johnson there to profit.
 
England is not yet out of this match, and Australia’s batting has shown the capacity to be as brittle as that of their opponents. Nonetheless, it will take a prodigious England bowling effort in the mould of Durham earlier this year to deny Australia a fourth consecutive Test win. Then it would just be up to the weather to match that excitement.

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