England’s hopes of securing a first Ashes success were dealt a blow on the fourth day of the fourth Test, as bad weather hampered their hopes of putting Australia to the sword in Melbourne.
With the score at 103-2, 61 runs behind, and amid a spell of tight, probing bowling, the tourists were denied an opportunity to make inroads in the hosts’ batting line-up as rain wiped out the final 43.1 overs of the day.
Earlier in the day, England’s innings suffering an anti-climatic end as James Anderson succumbed to a Pat Cummins bouncer from the first ball of the day to leave his side 491 all out - allowing Alastair Cook to become the first English opener since Michael Atherton in 1997 to carry his bat in a Test.
Anderson was also subject of some controversy following the close of play, with an Australian television station alleging that the Lancashire bowler was guilty of ball-tampering in an attempt to produce reverse swing - although pictures provided were wholly inconclusive.
Cook makes history
Having batted all day on the previous day, it is fair to say that Cook’s time at the crease was much less of an endurance here.
All that was required of the Essex man was put on his pads and watch from the non-striker’s end as Anderson could only fend a Cummins (4-117) short ball straight to the hands of short leg to culminate the innings.
Despite the short stay, the former captain added his name to an illustrious list of players who have carried their bat in a Test, and was the first player to do so in an Ashes match since Geoffrey Boycott in Perth in 1979.
His total of 244* is also the largest by any player who has batted throughout an entirety of an innings and is also a record for a visiting player at the MCG, surpassing Sir Viv Richards’ score of 208 33 years previously.
Hosts look to defend
With the outcome of a second-successive whitewash Down Under now nigh-on impossible, the Australian batsman will be required to bat out the majority of the final day in order to enter the final Test unscathed.
They displayed the stubborn characteristics they will need to display in the latter stages of the day’s play, with David Warner and Steve Smith in particular battening down the hatches and merely seeking to survive as they barely looked to advance the score.
Having added a half-century stand for the opening wicket Warner saw opening partner Cameron Bancroft depart one run later, the Western Australian playing onto the stumps off the bowling of Chris Woakes (1-24) for 27.
Number three Usman Khawaja (11) edged behind off Anderson (1-20) to leave the scoreboard reading 65-2, yet captain Smith and his deputy looked to frustrate the visiting attack as they added only 21 runs together from their first 100 balls as a pair.
The usually-aggressive Warner hit only three boundaries in his knock of 40 not out, as he inched his way to a slowest score greater than 30 in his 69-match Test career.
Should England be able to take early wickets on the final day, then the experienced duo may live to regret their conservative approach here.
Ball-tampering accusations fired at England
On a docile pitch devoid of all pace and bounce and with lateral movement at a premium, the England bowlers were looking to produce reverse swing at the earliest possible time.
Roughing one side of the ball up with constant one-bounce throws into the turf, some locals took objection to the tactics deployed by Trevor Bayliss’ men and thus began to investigate.
Local media pointed the finger at England’s all-time leading wicket-taker Anderson as the perpetrator-in-chief, however evidence gathered against the 35-year-old did not suggest anything untoward.
Being shown to be using his thumb on the shiny side of the ball, if Anderson was aiming at underhand tactics then this does not prove it in the slightest - as it would be the rough side he would looking to alter if he wished to produce reverse swing.
Speaking after the day’s play, Bayliss made it clear that umpires Dharmasena and Ravi assured him there was “nothing to worry about”, yet revealed that they have spoken to both teams with regards intentionally throwing the ball into the ground.