MELBOURNE: England grabbed the key wickets of Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith to give themselves a fighting chance in the third Ashes Test on Monday, on a day overshadowed by four positive Covid cases within their camp.
At lunch on day two in Melbourne, Australia were 131 for four with Marcus Harris unbeaten on 48 and Travis Head not-out 11, still, 54 runs adrift of England’s first-innings 185.
After heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, England must win to keep the five-Test series alive, with Australia only needing a draw to retain the urn as holders.
The visitors had crumbled in the final session of the opening day, with Australia then surviving 16 overs to go to stumps on 61 for one with dangerman David Warner out for 38 to Jimmy Anderson.
Harris, under pressure after a poor series so far, resumed on 20 with nightwatchman Nathan Lyon yet to score.
Play began half an hour late after Covid drama in the England camp, with the team forced to undergo urgent rapid antigen tests as they were about to leave for the MCG.
All players came back negative, but two support staff and two family members tested positive and are isolating.
A member of the Channel Seven broadcast team also tested positive.
Coronavirus impacted the second Test at Adelaide with Australian captain Pat Cummins ruled out just before the start for being in close contact with a positive Covid-19 case.
When play got under way on day two in Melbourne, Lyon didn’t last long, hitting a breezy 10 before prodding at a full-length Ollie Robinson delivery that took a thick edge and carried to Jos Buttler behind the stumps.
Harris smacked an early boundary off Anderson, but was cautious, knowing he needs a big score with his place in the Australia team under threat.
He survived a review decision on 36 after being given out lbw, only for replays to show he clearly got bat to ball.
Labuschagne, the new number one Test batsman after his century in Adelaide, had a rare failure, undone by the pace of Mark Wood, edging to England captain Joe Root at slip on one in a massive moment for England.
Harris was joined by the usually reliable Smith, who had a let-off on one when Buttler got his fingertips to an inside edge off Anderson.
Smith rode his luck before Anderson was rewarded for a superb spell, bowling him for 16.