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Australia retain Ashes as sorry England collapse again in Melbourne

England surrendered the Ashes in embarrassing fashion in Melbourne, blitzed for 68 all out in their second innings to slump 3-0 behind in just 12 days of cricket.

A tour that has lurched from disappointment to disappointment literally since ball one – when Rory Burns lost his off stump – plumbed new lows as England capitulated on the third morning of the Boxing Day Test.

The final margin of defeat, an innings and 14 runs, was an indictment on every level given they had restricted the hosts to a modest 267.

Australia’s Scott Boland celebrates the wicket of England’s Joe Root
Scott Boland, centre, stepped up on his Test debut (Jason O’Brien/PA)

Veteran seamer Scott Boland, who was seventh choice just a few weeks ago, was their unlikely destroyer claiming remarkable figures of six for seven as a procession of batters queued up to give up their wickets.

There was no fight, no quality and no respite as England resumed on 31 for four and lost their next six for another 37, failing to even make Australia bat again.

Much of the damage had been done on the second evening, when 12 overs of shock and awe with the new ball, left them 31 for four and circling the drain of yet another damaging defeat.

England’s Ben Stokes walks off after being dismissed
Ben Stokes’s departure at 46 for five left precious little hope for England (Jason O’Brien/PA)

But they still had their high-class captain Joe Root, on the back of his career-best year and their some time miracle worker Ben Stokes at the crease, with two players fighting for their Test futures – Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler – still to come.

None could summon a fightback worthy of the name. Root top-scored, as he almost always does, but managed 28 and will not be happy with the manner of his own dismissal.

Stokes and Bairstow were taken care of far too easily, with Buttler finishing not out as the tail fell to pieces in short order.

England players warm up during day three of the third Ashes Test
England, shown warming up on day three of the MCG Test, failed to fire in the series (Jason O’Brien/PA)

The continuation of the match had been in doubt due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the England camp, which has now seen six positive cases split between family members and backroom staff, but both squads received the all-clear and play began on schedule.

Despite the dramatics of the previous night, where Pat Cummins, Mithcell Starc and hometown favourite Boland worked the MCG into a frenzy, there was still a sliver of hope that the tourists might mount some form of fightback with Root and Stokes at the crease.

Salvaging the game had long since passed as a realistic ambition but a couple of sessions of steel were not impossible. Things even started positively as three straight drives disappeared to the boundary, two from Stokes and one from his skipper.

But that was as good as it got for a side who lost track of how to compete Down Under after 12 defeats from their last 13 Tests on Australian soil.

Stokes, whose much-anticipated comeback to the side has given little cause for celebration, was gone for 11 when Starc fizzed one between bat and pad and nailed his middle stump.

Jonny Bairstow was next to the crease and he had a brief but torrid time.

He fended a ball just in front of the cordon on three, was dropped by Cameron Green in the gully on four and then fell lbw for five. It was the most marginal of calls by umpire Paul Wilson in Scott Boland’s favour, but the shot was poor and at 60 for six England were circling the drain of a dismal defeat.

Boland’s dream start to life in the Baggy Green just kept getting better as England made his ability to pound out a challenging length around off stump look like a super power.

England’s Joe Root warms up while holding a bat
Joe Root will not have fond memories of his second Ashes as captain Down Under (Jason O’Brien/PA)

Root became just the third player in history to make 1,700 Test runs in a calendar year, but hopes of going past Viv Richards or Mohammad Yousuf faltered. He will not remember the achievement fondly.

He aimed a half-hearted drive at a ball angled into the stumps and sprayed a catch to David Warner at slip.

Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson both fell for nought – taking England’s duck tally in a miserable year to a staggering 54, equalling their world record low from 1998. Boland took care of both, Wood with a brisk caught and bowled while Robinson nicked off in the channel.

James Anderson did just enough to make sure he would not make it 55 zeroes in 2021 but he did not linger long, seeing his off stump flattened by Green, who thrust his arms out in celebration to kick off a party for the 40,000 fans in attendance.

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