Scott Boland celebrates one of his two late wickets on Day 2 as Australia's bowlers ran amok late on Day 2. Image: @WisdenCricket. Twitter

COVID scares again played its part in the drama as England enjoyed their most productive day in the field and best day on tour of this series before a rampaging Australia took four wickets late to wrestle to momentum well and truly back in their favour.

On a day where COVID scares again played its part in the drama of the day, England enjoyed their most productive day in the field and best day on tour of this series before a rampaging Australia took four wickets late to wrestle to momentum well and truly back in their favour.

Marcus Harris played a lone hand for the hosts, making his way to 76 as Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith fell cheaply and James Anderson led the English attack as he always does as Australia was bowled out for 267, only adding the 206 runs on Day 2.

A flurry of wickets courtesy of high-class fast bowling left the Great Southern Stand in raptures late in the day as Australia took complete control late.

Here are the moments that mattered on Day 2 at the MCG.

COVID dramas delay start of play

Amid the backdrop of the COVID era, the drama is never too far away. After the slight hiccup in Adelaide with positive cases in the media centre, the pandemic once again wreaked havoc on the second morning of play with broadcaster Channel 7 confirming that a member of their broadcasting team had tested positive, sending many into isolation and for testing.

It forced a re-shuffle on air, with Seven starting the day with a new look commentary team as results were awaited.

Meanwhile, England were late arrivals to the MCG after confirmation of positive cases in the family traveling group and support staff last night through Rapid Antigen Testing. No players were directly affected by way of close contacts or had any impact on the match, but England were late arrivals to the ground as they awaited clearance to come and play.

England was later cleared to come to the ground. There was a small delay to the start of play but no cricket was lost. 

England players and staff will all have PCR tests today with plenty of extra care and precautionary measures taken throughout the day.

Marnus’ rare short stay

Without Mark Wood in Adelaide, England’s pace attack looked one-dimensional and it allowed the Australian batters to profit in a big way. None more so than Marnus Labuschagne whose first-innings century saw him rise to number 1 in the ICC Men’s Test batting rankings.

But it was a different story when he got to the MCG as the number one batter was dismissed for just 1, courtesy of Mark Wood finding the edge through to slip and held by Joe Root.

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The 14 ball innings was Marnus’ shortest first innings in terms of balls faced since being substituted for Steve Smith at Lords in 2019. It was also his lowest first innings score since February 2019. This is remarkably, the first time he has been dismissed for less than 47 in a first innings of a Test match.

Anderson peach continues productive morning for England

England enjoyed their most productive and meaningful session of the series on Day 2 with three key strikes denting Australia’s pace and ability to charge ahead with the Test match.

Robinson was the first to strike removing the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon and Wood found Marnus Labuschagne’s outside edge. The big prize of the morning.

The second prize of the morning came in the form of James Anderson doing what he does best and has done for so many years. Angle the ball in enough and hit the top of Steve Smith’s off stump.

It was the reward in a big spell for the 39-year-old who continues to produce his magic deliveries and spells, even in his older age.

The dismissal of Smith, with both he and Marnus Labuschagne gone relatively cheaply this morning, brought the in form Travis Head to the crease, who has gotten Australia out of a little spot of bother twice already in this series, but this might just prove to be his biggest and final test before cementing his spot.

Harris raises bat as Root’s tactics again called into question

After winning the morning session, England once again had the chance to apply some heat and more pressure to Australia straight after the break as the deficit slowly trickled away.

To start the session though, Root threw the ball back to Jack Leach, who was operating from the Great Southern Stand end prior to the Lunch break, and set the same field to Travis Head which included three men spread on the boundary and no fielder in close at short leg.

He was generating turn and bounce on a pitch that provided great assistance to Nathan Lyon yesterday but spent his three overs bowling the ball on a leg-stump line, bowling quite negatively with a defensive field. Leaving many puzzled as to what the tactics or instructions were.

Marcus Harris then was able to raise his bat for his third Test half-century and first meaningful contribution of the series with a straight drive down the ground for three off Mark Wood who was continuing on at the Members end. A lose over allowed Harris to get away to a quick start after lunch, racing through the 50s and building his score and confidence.

The runs started to flow immediately after lunch with the first five overs after the break yielding 21 runs. 

The change was made in Leach’s fourth over of his spell when they put in a short leg and almost immediately, Leach started to create half chances and began to look threatening. Including slipping one past Marcus Harris with Buttler unable to complete the sumping down the leg-side.

Important Harris knock undone by sensational Anderson outswinger as Australia push lead

Class is permanent and James Anderson, at age 39 still has plenty of it.

The evergreen swing bowler continued to produce his magic at the MCG on Day 2, with a misely ten-over period producing the best of Jimmy Anderson. Stats show that since he has turned 35, he has adapted and started producing new ways to consistently churn out performances.

His spell today at the MCG included a 10 over stretch where he took two wickets for three runs and beat the bat more often than not in a testing spell for the Australian batters.

Just as Australia were about to move into the lead, and with Marcus Harris edging closer to his highest Test score, Anderson sent Harris on his way, kissing his outside edge with the ball sailing through to Joe Root at second slip. Removing the opener for 76.

It continued Anderson’s productive season for both England and Lancashire proving that despite his age, he is still more potent than ever in the first bowling innings of a match.

Leach makes important breakthrough before second new ball

He might have thought his series would have been one game and done after his nightmare on Vulture Street, with the Australian batters taking England’s left-arm spinner down at the Gabba.

However, his first wicket at the MCG would prove a potentially pivotal moment in the game. Again Leach was thrown the ball from The Great Southern Stand end after the resumption from the Tea break. With England trickling down to the second new ball and Cameron Green starting to look set after a tricky period before the break and after hitting a glorious straight drive for four the previous over, Leach struck the pads of Green which was adjudged out on the field by umpire Paul Reiffel.

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Ball tracking agreed with Reiffel which displayed “umpires call” when Green reviewed. His score of 17 added to a frustrating run of starts for the Australian middle order.

Ben Stokes was brought on from the other end and struck immediately too, removing Alex Carey caught behind, with England collecting two vital wickets before the second new ball.

Starc, Boland, MCG come to life as Australia rip Englands hearts out in brutal final hour

After bowling Australia out for 267, England’s batters had a little over an hour or 16 overs to survive tonight. A chance to knock off the lead and set about building a strong target for Australia to chase that has been doing plenty over the first two days.

Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins shared the new ball and turned up the heat on England’s besieged opening pair,  the Hameed and Crawley opening partnerships made it past the 4 over mark, a landmark over considering they have lost wickets consistently at this point in test matches across 2021.

Then Starc caught the edge of Zak Crawley which was claimed behind by Alex Carey. The very next ball he wrapped Dawid Malan on the pads which was adjudged out by umpire Paul Wilson.

Malan reviewed with replays looking like it was going to sail over the top of the stumps, but ball-tracking showed that the ball had just shaved the top of the bails, meaning the call stayed with the on-field umpire.

The 42,626 fans who packed the MCG rode every moment, banged their seats, and clapped Mitchell Starc all the way in to deliver the hat-trick ball to Joe Root. A delivery that tailed in towards the right-hander and only just missed the outside edge as it went through to wicketkeeper Alex Carey.

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The Great Southern Stand at the MCG was bouncing like it hadn’t been in a long time. As Australia was charging, the stands were rising again as debutant Scott Boland was thrown the ball. Picked in the side specifically for this role in the second innings at the MCG.

His third ball of his first over caught the outside edge of Haseeb Hameed with the rest being done by Carey with the safe hands. England sent out nightwatchman Jack Leach to shield the rest of the batting order but he only lasted two balls. With a packed slips cordon,  bowled Jack Leach after just two balls. The Southern Stand once again erupted with pure jo and elation for their hometown hero as he inflicted more pain on the tourists.

Ben Stokes, belatedly strode to the wicket to see out the final over and a half and will resume with Joe Root tomorrow with it all to do to save England from further wreckage.

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