England finally looked like building a winning position in a Test match on this Ashes tour, only to give it all away in shambolic style.
Collapsing under pressure with defeat looming is one thing, but from a position of strength it was all the more frustrating for the tourists.
Here we take a look at the key moments from the day.
Throwing It All Away
Day 3 at the MCG was perhaps the worst day of England’s tour so far. The tourists followed their best day of the series to relinquish a position of great dominance after enjoying the luxury of a first-innings lead for the first time since the Lord’s Test this summer.
England’s batsmen were loose, reckless and bowled out, not by Mitchell Johnson's brilliance or a pincer motion of pressure, but instead by channelling their own ineptitude against the accurate but unthreatening Nathan Lyon on a pitch providing little assistance for the spinners.
England’s total of 179 set Australia 231 runs to win; a target considerably less than England would have hoped for at 65-0 with a lead of 115.
Shane Watson and Ryan Harris were both clearly tired and jaded, reducing Australia’s wicket-taking threat from five men to three, yet England still found a way not only to manage to collapse once but actually to to do so twice—from 86-1 to 87-4 and from 173-5 to 179 all out.
Australia closed on 30-0 requiring 201 more runs to win, which won't be easy, but will be a great deal easier than the total they could have and should have been chasing had England batted better earlier in the day.
Searching For Balance
Australia’s three fully-fit bowlers did not stray from their task and admittedly bowled tight, probing lines and lengths, but the stench of threat and danger did not nearly hang so heavy in the air as it has on previous occasions on this tour.
This was a genuinely excellent opportunity for England to put the result of this Test match beyond question, but it was their batting that gave it away.
It is no coincidence that England’s two best innings of the match have been played by Kevin Pietersen adopting tactics of caution and circumspection.
Pietersen, of all England’s players, is the most proactive and aggressive yet he has found scoring fast nigh on impossible on a pitch which doesn’t lend to such a method. He has therefore blended his natural positivity with more circumspection and found a happy medium between attack and defence.
However, his lead has failed to be followed by his teammates, who lurched between a bizarre mix of retrenched defence and reckless attack. Only Alastair Cook’s pleasing 51 bore resemblance to Pietersen’s pair of innings.
Not that it was ever in genuine doubt, but this Test has proven unequivocally that Pietersen is the last person whose place in this England side should be being questioned.
The Anatomy of a Batting Collapse
It could be said that Michael Carberry saw off the new ball and Mitchell Johnson well; however, it could also be said he was subject to an Australian plan of cutting off his scoring options, which they did successfully before exposing his weakness to balls angled into him to end an alarmingly torturous 81-ball 12.
Carberry will probably play in the fifth Test in Sydney, but he may fall foul of the need to regenerate this team come the beginning of the English summer. He could live to rue not making the most of a handful of promising starts earlier in the series.
Joe Root’s single that led to his run out was reckless opportunism.
Ian Bell, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow were all showing intent in their dismissals. Bell doing so first ball was foolhardy. Stokes had mixed aggression with defence relatively well, but the delivery he got out to perhaps gripped and turned more than he expected, at which point he maybe could have readjusted his shot selection—but as it was, he didn't and he was on his way.
Bairstow, like Stokes, looked okay up until his dismissal, and the wide ball he chased didn't need to be played at but at the same time deserved to be punished. He didn’t move his feet enough, was beaten by the pace of Johnson and was stuck on the crease.
Cook was trapped lbw by an excellent delivery from Johnson while Pietersen’s aggression-instigated dismissal was understandable as he began to run out of partners.
England batting collapse omnibus Ashes 2013 edition: MCG: 6-5 WACA: 17-4 Adelaide: 24-6 Gabba: 28-7 #Ashes— Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) December 28, 2013
The Lyon Sings
Lyon has been the unsung hero of Australia’s series, offering crucial respite to the headline-grabbing seamers. Today was different, the boy no-one cared about, the man who got stuck on the Adelaide ground staff, seized the day and made it his. He’s warranted more respect than he’s received for a while; now he may finally get it.
England’s day didn't begin well either with Lyon and Brad Haddin frustrating the visitors, adding a further 40 runs to their overnight total with England’s bowlers pitching too short and not targeting the stumps enough.
While the bowlers should remain relatively free from criticism in amongst this disastrous series, their inability to bowl out the lower order of not only Australia but teams generally has been a problem for some time now.