England 226 for six wickets at close of first day at MCG
Record crowd of 91,092 watch the action in Melbourne
Australia lead series 3-0 and have won back the Ashes
Kevin Pietersen 67 not out as England falter again
Basking in the glory of winning back the fabled Ashes from traditional rivals England, Australia’s cricketing fans turned up in world record numbers Boxing Day in Melbourne to see their side continue its domination of the series.
England closed on 226 for six wickets, with only Kevin Pietersen, undefeated on 67, suggesting they might post a challenging first innings total.
Two late wickets with the second new ball for paceman Mitchell Johnson swung the initiative Australia’s way to leave the majority of the 91,092 crowd at the MCG celebrating.
The attendance broke a previous world best for attendance at a cricket match set 52 years ago in the same vast stadium.
“In years to come Melburnians will remember Boxing Day 2013 as the day their city created sporting history,” Cricket Australia’s CEO, James Sutherland, told Cricket Australia’s website.
England’s loyal band of cricket supporters – nicknamed ‘The Barmy Army’ – also helped boost the figure, but with their team 3-0 down in the best of five-match series they came more in hope than expectation.
Until Johnson’s late first day burst, removing Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, who had replaced the out-of-form Matt Prior as England’s wicketkeeper, the visitors had held their own, although the scoring rate was pedestrian.
Put in to bat by Australia’s captain Michael Clarke, England made it to lunch for the loss of his counterpart Alastair Cook to Peter Siddle.
Cook’s opening partner Michael Carberry went after the interval, again failing to capitalize on a solid start to be bowled by Shane Watson for 38.
That brought Pietersen to the wicket and he looked determined to atone for earlier failures in the series, which had led some to question his place in the side.
He enjoyed a slice of luck, hooking a short ball from the excellent Ryan Harris in the direction of substitute fielder Nathan Coulter-Nile, who could only carry the ball over for a six.
On 41, Harris almost had him again, but George Bailey could not hold a sharp chance at midwicket.
Pietersen found support from Joe Root and Ian Bell, but both departed after starts to Harris, both caught behind by Brad Haddin, the Australia wicketkeeper.
Stokes and Bairstow were unable to cope with the 90mph plus pace of Johnson, a key figure in Australia’s three earlier wins.
It left Pietersen at the wicket with Tim Bresnan and just the England tailenders to come.
Bell, who starred for England in the summer when they beat Australia 3-0 in a home series, still held hope that Pietersen could lift them into a good position on the second day.
“With Kev not out it’s a good sign for us,” Bell told Sky Sports.
“A lot of us got starts and are disappointed not to get scores. We would have liked a few more runs as well,” he admitted as the pattern of the earlier matches continued.
“We need big runs and we’ve not got them, but if Kev and Bres (Tim Bresnan) can hang around, maybe we will get 300 plus and put some pressure on Australia.”
But with Johnson fired up, Australia will look to quickly remove the remaining England batsmen at the start of the second day and post a big score of their own in their bid to achieve a humiliating series whitewash of their oldest rivals.
Meanwhile in other Test match action Thursday, India reached 181 for one wicket on the first day of the second Test against No.1 ranked South Africa in Durban.
Indian batsmen Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara were sharing an unbeaten century partnership for the second wicket before bad light stopped play.