England Set New Standard for Collapses ; SECOND TEST: Ashes Series Running Away from Atherton as Leg Spinner's T Riple Strike Hastens Tourists' Comprehensive Defeat

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Australia 279 and 320-7 dec England 212 and 92

Australia win by 295 runs It has now reached the point where victory over England does not even rate the traditional rush for a souvenir stump - a little bit like anglers throwing back minnows. Only three were plucked from the ground here yesterday, and while one was tucked under Shane Warne's arm, and another under Craig McDermott's, no one seemed to know who had collected the third. The most likely candidate is Michael Atherton, who may shortly be using it to drive a stake through his heart.

Atherton's countenance yesterday was a curious mixture of the totally hacked-off and completely bemused as he was forced to squirm through a series of post-match press conferences that lasted considerably longer than the 56 minutes it took England to lose their last six wickets.

Defeat, with a grain or two of honour, is nothing to be ashamed of, but this continual ritual humiliation at the hands of England's deadliest enemy is too much to bear. The days when Australia used to sledge have long gone, as sledging is a mark of respect. Now all they do is snigger.

Eight years ago, at the start of Mike Gatting's tour, the boot was so firmly on the other foot that Allan Border was prone to explode at press conferences. "How do you feel AB?", Border was asked after losing the Brisbane Test. "How the bleeping hell do yer think I bleeping well feel?", came the memorable reply. Atherton has not yet blown up, but the blue touch paper is definitely smouldering.

It scarcely helps that Atherton's questioning only begins after he has listened to Mark Taylor, Warne, McDermott, and whoever else has just stuck it up the Poms, dishing out the standard "we won't be easing up in the next one . . . don't write-off these

Poms . . . long way to go yet" kind of reply. Atherton, deep down, knows that the more honest answer would be "Jeez, we're a little surprised they decided to send over the Milton Keynes 2nd XI", and those cherubic features will not survive three more spankings before it is time for home.

Not even Keith Fletcher's claim that Warne is the only essential difference between these sides stands up to statistical scrutiny. Since England retained the Ashes on this ground in 1989, England have lost eight Ashes Tests without Warne on the opposing side (won nil), and lost six (won one) when Warne has been playing. Australia could probably replace Warne and McDermott with Skippy and the Flying Doctor and it still would not make a hoot of difference.

Warne could not even win the man of the match award here despite becoming the first bowler to perform the hat-trick in an Ashes Test since Hugh Trumble, also at the MCG, in 1903-04. As Warne's final victim was Devon Malcolm, one or two historians might query whether Warne has a legitimate claim, and it may not be too long before any Australian feat against England is ruled out on the grounds that the opposition cannot be recognised as first-class.

Australia's fourth-day declaration left England with a survival period of eight hours and 120 overs. In the event, England were bowled out in three hours and four minutes and 42.5 overs. However, their final total of 92 suggests that they are twice as good this winter as last, when they made only half that many against Curtly Ambrose in Trinidad.

The final margin here was 295 runs, almost respectable by current standards, and it was the first time they had been bowled out by Australia for under 100 since their 95 all out in the first innings of the Centenary Test in Melbourne in 1977. Melbourne was also the venue when they last made a lower total against Australia, 87 all out on the 1958-59 tour.

England, resuming on 79 for 4, could not even make a respectable fist of it despite making one of their better starts. Having dismissed Graham Gooch with the first ball of the third day's play, Australia were doubtless wondering where their next wicket was coming from yesterday before Mike Gatting was out to the second ball of the day. …