Scott Boland, Joe Root and Pat Cummins all had big roles to play in the Third Test and remain as lingering talking points. Image: cricket.com.au

The Ashes urn belongs to Australia after England was humiliated at the Boxing Day Test in extraordinary fashion losing by an innings at the MCG.

The Ashes urn belongs to Australia after England was humiliated at the Boxing Day Test in extraordinary fashion losing by an innings.

Australia took an unassailable 3-0 lead, wrapping up the Ashes in just 11 days and one session, completing the rout in front of more than 40,00 fans at a sun-bathed MCG.

From the moment the coin fell Pat Cummins way on Day 1 and he sent England in, you could sense the match evolving in a similar pattern to Boxing Day Tests between the two countries in the past. But no one would have predicted that Australia would only make 287 runs and win the game by an innings. Prompting bigger questions about English cricket.

With the Ashes tucked away as we look ahead to Sydney, Here are the Top 6 Talking Points to emerge from the Third Test at the MCG

Boland’s day out in dream debut adds to ever growing cartel

Scott Boland would be living in a dream. At 32 years old, the Victorian was handed a shock debut, in the middle of an Ashes series, at his home ground where he has developed a reputation as a track specialist at the MCG. Boland became just the fourth Australian cricketer, male or female from Indigenous descent to pull on the baggy green. A moment that was celebrated at Welcome to Country before the national anthems and right throughout the match.

After taking 1/48 from his 13 overs in the first innings, Boland’s arrival into Test cricket turned into an instantly iconic performance that will forever go down in Ashes and Box Day folklore.

He took 6/7 off just four overs in the second innings as Australia ran through England on the second evening and third morning for just 68, securing the innings and 14 run victory, leaving the MCG in raptures.

Boland’s feats also saw him awarded Player of the Match honours and won the Johnny Mullagh Medal, the medal presented to the player adjudged Player of the Match on Boxing Day.

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Australia has had to dip into its reserves more than they expected this summer as injuries to Josh Hazlewood and Jhye Richardson have meant the need for rotation of the seamers. Pat Cummins’ unfortunate situation with being a close contact on the eve of the Adelaide Test also meant that he was forced to miss and Michael Neser was given a game and handled himself with aplomb in the Test arena.

What it means for the bigger picture is that for as much as Australia has spoken about their battery of fast bowling options and quicks ready to line up and take the spot if one happens to go down, the proof is now in the pudding that the next rung down from the big three are capable and proven Test match performers.

With Hazlewood and Richardson both expected to be fit for the Sydney Test starting January 5th, it leaves George Bailey with a number of selection headaches.

Joe Root ends lone handed 2021 third all time

England players have been busy in 2021, playing more cricket than any other nation in the pandemic era. It’s admirable yet also concerning how much cricket they have been forced to play in and out of bubbles and restricted living conditions.

Throughout the wretched year on the field, which say England equal the record for most Test defeats in a calendar year (nine defeats in 2021 and one win in their past eleven games), saw the re-emergence of their batting powerhouse Joe Root who constantly stood head and shoulders and even body lengths ahead of his teammates when it came to performing with the bat this year.

Root amassed 1,708 runs across 2021 from 15 matches, climbing to third position for the most productive Test years only trailing only Sir Viv Richards in 1976 and Mohammed Yousuf in 2006.

The damning raw bones of just how far Root was ahead of the rest of his teammates are drawn from the fact that he ended the year over 1,000 runs ahead of the next best English batter Rory Burns, who was dropped for the last Test. The next best for England is Extra runs added to the total over the course of the year, not runs off the bat.

We should celebrate Joe Root and the year that he had on an individual front as he reminded us of his quality and class. But the numbers above paint a picture of a system and team in need of a serious overhaul.

Who do they turn to now exactly?

Team selection has been the root of the problem for England on this tour. Mucking up their selections from the get-go.

While they made 4 changes for the MCG test and it ended inside 7 sessions of play and they are unlikely to find the solutions to their selection quandaries in time for Sydney and Hobart.

Joe Root aside, the batting, as mentioned above remains their biggest issue. Amplified even more after being rolled for just 68 in their second innings.

Rory Burns was replaced for this Test by Zak Crawley, (12 and 5) and Jonny Bairstow (35 and 5) took Ollie Pope’s place in the middle of the order, although neither proved to be the answer.

Part of the problem, as flagged by English great Sir Ian Botham, is the fact the English Lions, who were with the Ashes squad in Brisbane, have flown home, leaving selectors with very little to choose from as far as replacements.

“If you can explain the logic to me of having the Lions here in the first place to actually back up the first team, they sent them home, I don’t get that. But there’s enough time between now and the Sydney Test to get someone like an Alex Lees in,” Botham said on Channel 7 after the third Test loss.

“There’s other players out there in England. We need some more pace, we need more discipline in the batting order.”

Careers on the line as R word comes front of mind

The dismal and embarrassing England display has been met with a fierce reaction back in the UK and from the English cricketing public with calls growing louder and louder for heads to roll in the wake of another Ashes tour gone horribly wrong.

Former players, journalists, and cricket fans alike are again searching for answers and asking “where too now”  after they lost the Ashes inside 12 days.

Captain Joe Root hinted post-game that a similar review, akin to what happened with England Cricket after the 2015 World Cup embarrassment should take place for red-ball cricket.

England completely re-vamped their white-ball and limited-overs set up after the 2015 World Cup and it set them on a path to the 2019 50 Over World Cup title and has developed a style of play in both One Day and T20 cricket that is dynamic and has a steady production line of players capable of stepping into any England side, quite literarily at the drop of a hat. See the Pakistan ODI series in the middle of the year where England, due to COVID needed to pick an entirely new squad two days before the series started and still won 3-0 against a fully loaded Pakistan side.

While there remain two games to play, there will be many nervous people in the England camp. Starting from the players whom some will be playing for their careers should they be selected. These final two games could mark the end of Joe Root’s captaincy, who has now captained England in more games than anyone else, had two go’s at the Ashes away and failed miserably on both occasions.

The coach Chris Silverwood is also under pressure to retain his job. After taking over from Trevor Bayliss after being his bowling coach, and being the chief selector after the removal of Tom Harrison mid-year, his position is sure to come under review, as is director of cricket Ashley Giles.

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It will be a long post mortem for England.

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Starc producing his best when the chips were down

After his recent summer against India, and the irrepressible Sheffield Shield form of Jhye Richardson, many questioned Mitchell Starc’s place in the side and the general pecking order. Over the first three Tests of the series, Starc has been the constant and has led the way right from the very first ball of the summer.

He’s going so well, he might just end up as Player of the series.

After three Tests, Starc is the series’ leading wicket-taker, claiming 14 scalps at an average of 19.6.

The 31-year-old has bowled with pace, energy, and incredible over recent weeks, particularly across the past two Tests where he’s taken 11 wickets.

Australian captain Pat Cummins believes Mitchell Starc has been the player of the Ashes to date and “gone to a new level”.

His spell in the second innings on the second evening at the MCG, where he found the edge of Zak Crawley and then trapped Dawid Malan LBW the very next ball, before so very nearly finding the edge of Joe Root the following delivery for the hat trick ball.

Speaking to reporters after Australia sealed Ashes victory on Tuesday, Cummins said Starc had been “titanic” for the team this month. With the left armer finding a spectacular rhythm and leading the way with the ball.

“He’s just about been the player of the series so far, just fantastic,” Cummins said. “You saw last week in Adelaide how he lifted and led the attack.

“I actually think this summer he’s gone to a new level. He’s experienced … but I think he’s found another gear. With the ball that’s not swinging, he’s taking wickets consistently, beating the outside edge consistently.”

Starc is also contributing in a meaningful way with the bat. Coming in at number nine, the big quick has scored 117 runs @ 58.50 this series. Currently sitting 7th on the list for most runs this series.

Harris keeps the wolves at bay but fails to cement himself

Monday was billed as the most important day in Marcus Harris’ Test career as he resumed from his overnight score of 20 with a chance to make an impression on his home ground.

Having survived a probing spell from the evergreen James Anderson, and an LBW decision that was overturned on review, Harris raised his bat for the first time since January 2019 at Test level when he passed 50 just after lunch on Day 2.

In a testing innings on a testing pitch, he made his way to 76 before Anderson found his outside edge which was held by Joe Root at second slip.

It was the third half-century of his Test career and he found some runs when he desperately needed them to keep the wolves at bay. Harris is still yet to score more than 80 in Test cricket, now averaging 24.63, and is sure to get the remainder of the series to continue searching for that big score and further cement his place.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting last week called for Harris to retain his place in the side and praised his efforts at the MCG, labeling it the left-hander’s best test innings, but also a big missed opportunity.

“It definitely is (his best Test innings) but it might just be one that’s got away from him,” Ponting told cricket.com.au.

“He had to work so hard to get past fifty today. When he got to fifty it looked like he just relaxed a little bit.

“There were a lot more errors after he got to fifty than there were before he got there, and he got stuck in the middle of a great spell of bowling.

“His scoring rate plummeted just before he got out and that’s what Test match cricket is all about – bowlers putting pressure on batters, but also batters finding a way to combat that and still rotate the strike.

Harris will play in both Sydney and Hobart and will look to cement his spot to be included in the touring squads on the three subcontinental tours later this year.

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