Australia retain the Ashes as dismal England collapse yet again

The third Test was decided in reality in the final 12 overs of play on the second day. Pat Cummins and Starc hurled themselves at the top order, carried by fans beating on the advertising boards and plastic chairs, to undo all the spade work by James Anderson to extinguish any faint hopes of England winning this game.

It was too much for Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed, two young openers ill equipped for this sort of working over by two pace bowlers hitting the splice, gloves and arm guards at above 90mph.

Australia had an 82-run first-innings lead, which added up to more than the combined averages this year of four of England’s top seven, and 12 overs to do some ­serious damage.

Cummins was magnificent, ruthlessly setting the tone for his team with a nasty first ball that hammered into Hameed’s arm guard and looped over the slips.

Crawley’s second and third balls from Cummins beat him on the outside and inside edge. He nicked Cummins between keeper and slip in his next over, but the charmed life was not going to be a long one.

In his third over, Starc angled one across Crawley, who pushed forward and edged behind, walking off with an average this year of just 10.

Dawid Malan is one of two in-form players but he was beaten for pace, his bat a long way from the ball as it thumped into his pad. Starc appealed and it looked leg side. Malan reviewed the verdict and it was just shaving the leg stump. Starc was on a hat-trick.

Root has faced many challenges on this tour. As he took guard, with four slips lurking and Starc on a hat-trick, he must have wondered what could be thrown at him next. Starc’s delivery just missed the outside edge by millimetres. Starc looked to the heavens, Root gave a cheeky smile and the slips all stood with hands on heads.

Hameed somehow survived the Starc-Cummins assault but it was draining stuff. Scott Boland’s change of pace did the trick, a good ball nipped away outside off and Hameed edged it. When Jack Leach shouldered arms to his second ball, Boland had two in three deliveries, the local hero revelling in the moment.

Earlier this month was the 19th anniversary of Anderson’s debut for England, on this ground in a one-day international.

He was belted around that night by Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting but Nasser Hussain, the then-captain, praised Anderson’s “character” for coming back to take Gilchrist’s wicket, the first of 926 for England in all forms.

That character remains as strong, if not stronger, 7,000 overs later for England and was evident this week in his Telegraph Sport column when he prickled at Root’s assertion he had bowled too short in Adelaide.

Anderson responded with his best ­performance in Australia for 10 years, taking four for 33, which, when broken down, was three for 19 off 18 overs on day two. Yes, he took five for 43 in Adelaide four years ago but that was with the pink ball in the twilight hour when conditions were made for him.

This time it was a sunny afternoon in Melbourne and, while the pitch was assisting bowlers who hit the seam, Anderson was defending a total 75 below what it should have been.

England humiliated in Melbourne as Australia clinch Ashes – as it happened

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