Melbourne:The fathers in England's team know the excitement that Christmas Eve brought their children four nights ago, and they were feeling a similar anticipation on Tuesday evening after Tim Bresnan bowled them to within sight of an innings victory. England can expect to retain the Ashes on Wednesday after another day of dominance over Australia, with only four wickets standing between the visitors and their goal.
In fact, it's probably only three wickets, as Ryan Harris is unlikely to bat, and will miss the Sydney Test having suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle while running in to bowl during the first session. The unheralded Bresnan ran through three of Australia's best batsmen before Graeme Swann and James Anderson chipped in and by stumps, Australia were 6 for 169 with Brad Haddin on 11 and Mitchell Johnson on 6.
The hosts needed something miraculous to save them after their first-innings capitulation for 98; what they couldn't afford was for England to make 513. Jonathan Trott finished unbeaten on 168 as five wickets fell in the first session and Peter Siddle completed a six-wicket haul in front of his home crowd, but England had a lead of 415 and the Ashes were all but in the bag.
Australia needed to bat for two days to save the game; they struggled to survive for even two sessions. Bresnan found swing and hit probing lines, Swann dried the runs up as Australia's bowlers hadn't managed to, and the batsmen simply couldn't settle in for the kind of long innings that Trott and Alastair Cook have been so adept at in this series.
And it all started with one bad decision from Shane Watson. Phillip Hughes and Watson began positively as the runs were ticking over at a decent rate during their opening stand, while England's fast men struggled to find any early swing under a blue sky. But Hughes, desperate to prove he is one of Australia's best two available openers, had little hope of making his ground when Watson pushed to cover and called him for a single.
Trott's throw to Matt Prior had Hughes short for 23 and Watson's pained look said it all. It was a year ago, almost to the day, that at the same venue Watson was involved in another horrible mix-up with his opening partner, when he and Simon Katich finished up at the same end and TV replays were needed to confirm which of the men was gone. It's clearly a weakness in his game, as is his failure to turn half-centuries into hundreds.
After Watson went to tea on 50, having played some punchy drives straight and through cover, he came out following the break and inexplicably padded up to Bresnan and was lbw for 54, a wishful review not saving him from his poor judgment. In Watson's past 11 innings he has been out for 56, 57, 51, 57 and 54. He's becoming as synonymous with the fifties as James Dean.
Watson's dismissal came during an outstanding spell from Bresnan, who ended the day with 3 for 26 from 15 overs. The success of Bresnan and Chris Tremlett over the past two Tests has highlighted the depth in the England squad, which Australia haven't been able to match. Paul Collingwood is the only man struggling for England, while Australia have several passengers.
Ricky Ponting is one who hasn't been pulling his weight with the bat, and the questions over his future will grow louder after he played on to Bresnan for 20. Ponting was a picture of concentration during his 73-ball innings, desperate to dig Australia out of their hole, but the pressure built by Bresnan and his colleagues was destined to lead to a wicket.
Bresnan followed with the key dismissal of the in-form Michael Hussey, who drove on the up to short cover while trying to get off the mark, and the pressure was all on the vice-captain Michael Clarke. Again, though, England tied the Australians down with dot balls and Clarke, who had been lucky to escaped a missed stumping on 2, eventually edged Swann to second slip on 13 from 66 balls.
Suddenly, England could dream of winning within three days, but Smith and Haddin showed a little bit of fight, although Smith had been dropped on 4 when he rashly hooked Bresnan to Tremlett at deep backward square leg. His luck ran out on 38 when he tried to pull Anderson and got a bottom edge on to his stumps.
By that stage, Australia were still 257 runs from making England bat again, after Trott's unbeaten 168 created a huge advantage for the visitors. Trott saw five wickets fall around him before lunch, as England added 69 to their overnight total to be dismissed for 513 a few minutes before the scheduled break, and it was Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus who did the damage.
Siddle enjoyed a hometown six-wicket haul and he began the day by removing Prior, who was caught at mid-on by Ponting for 85, and then Bresnan was caught behind for 4 soon afterwards. Swann offered some support for Trott before he gave Hilfenhaus his first wicket of the match, caught behind for 22 when he toe-edged an attempted hook that was taken by a high-leaping Haddin.
The job was finished rapidly a few minutes before the scheduled lunch break when Hilfenhaus bowled Tremlett for 4 and Siddle bowled Anderson for 1. Siddle finished with 6 for 75, which was his second six-wicket haul of the series following his strong opening-day efforts at the Gabba. Just like in that match, his efforts will be in vain.