Ashes: Aussies close in on victory as England collapse

Melbourne, Dec 28 : An astonishing batting collapse saw England bowled out for 179 on day three of the Test, leaving Australia a target of 231 runs for a 4-0 Ashes lead at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here Saturday.

At stumps, the hosts were 30 for no loss, requiring only another 201 runs with two days to spare.

Having sweltered through 35-degree Celsius heat as England's batsmen attempted to build on their first real advantage of the series, Australia's bowlers appeared to have lost the spark they had shown in the previous three Tests until -- to the surprise of few -- Kevin Pietersen ignited them one more time.

The English batsman's decision to pull out of his batting stance as Mitchell Johnson approached the crease, citing movement of people or flotsam behind the bowler, was totally justified within the game's laws.

But it incited Johnson, who hardly needs an excuse to crank up the revs and install English batting helmets into his cross-hairs.

The paceman reacted by hurling the ball in disgust past Pietersen and then engaging in a verbal stoush that threatened to escalate out of control, much to the apparent delight of England's premier provocateur.

Indeed, Pietersen was seen to be smiling as he was riling, although it's doubtful that his batting partner at the time -- Jonny Bairstow -- and the already gun-shy English tailenders waiting nervously in the dressing room shared his appetite for antagonism.

What happened from that point on was as spectacular as it was predictable.

Johnson threw everything at the English and within two overs of his run-in with Pietersen claimed the first laugh by having Bairstow caught behind as he flashed cluelessly at a fast, wide ball that served to further inflame the roused passions of the 63,000-plus crowd.

His departure triggered a collapse of -- even by modern England standards -- staggering ineptitude.

Their final five wickets tumbled for just six runs in the space of a mere six overs, to set Australia the entirely gettable target of 231 in more than two days to win a game that an hour earlier seemed safely in England's keep. It also kept alive the hosts' hopes of a five-nil Ashes whitewash.

By stumps, that goal had been reduced by 30 runs with openers Chris Rogers (18 batting) and David Warner (12 batting) still at the crease.

--IANS (Posted on 28-12-2013)

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