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Morning showers and cloud cover in Melbourne made it a good toss to win at the MCG and Cummins chose to put England’s batters under the microscope after Joe Root called incorrectly.
The skipper delivered the goods himself, removing Haseeb Hameed for yet another duck, handing Zak Crawley a disappointing return to the side and then striking the hammer blow in the final over of the morning session.
Root and Dawid Malan – the tourists’ most reliable duo of the series – put on a stand of 48 before Cummins returned for a second spell and had the latter caught at slip in the last over before lunch.
Having chosen to bowl first Cummins decided to share new-ball duties with Mitchell Starc and gave his side a perfect start to get the stadium rocking.
Hameed had left every ball of Starc’s opening over but had no such luxury against Cummins, who was immediately asking questions around off stump.
His first two balls to Hameed zipped in off the pitch but the third held its line, grazing the edge of a pushy defensive stroke. Alex Carey swallowed the catch and England reached the unwanted landmark of a 50th Test duck in 2021.
Malan has been serving as a de facto opener since the start of the series, forced into service by the persistent failures above him, and he once again showed the right mettle for the job. He took 18 deliveries to get off the mark but showed no signs of forcing the issue.
Crawley, on the other hand, was eager to get going having replaced the dropped Rory Burns. There were a couple of nice connections, including a straight drive to get off the mark, but also an early swish at fresh air and a loopy leading edge that could have gone anywhere.
He was Cummins’ second victim for 12, squared up by one that kicked up and took the shoulder of the bat. Cameron Green did the rest at gully, bringing Root to the crease in the eighth over.
The England captain was immediately busy, dashing a single off his first ball and flicking debutant Scott Boland off his legs for four off his second. Most importantly he survived the rest of Cummins’ initial burst.
Things began to look more straightforward as soon as he was shuffled out of the attack and Australia’s hopes that Nathan Lyon’s spin would discomfort Malan did not materialise. A sense of stability had emerged until Cummins elbowed his way back into the spotlight, slanting one across Malan with three balls of the session to go and snaring the edge. Malan was gone for a battling 14, leaving much for Root to do on 33 not out.