MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Chris Rogers struck a sparkling century to fire Australia to a dominant eight-wicket win in the fourth Ashes test on Sunday, leaving an insipid England staring down the barrel of a humiliating series whitewash.
The victory, completed before tea on day four, pushed Australia to a 4-0 series lead and the prospect of sweeping England in the fifth and final test in Sydney seven years after Ricky Ponting’s team whitewashed the tourists in 2006-07.
Needing quick wickets to have any chance of salvaging pride at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, England were let down badly by their captain Alastair Cook, who put down two catches at first slip in the first half-hour to reprieve Rogers on 19 and his opening partner David Warner for 22.
Though Warner lasted only three more runs, Rogers combined with number three batsman Shane Watson to flog a demoralised attack, their carefree partnership of 136 putting the hosts within 31 runs of victory before the opener succumbed for 116.
Australia captain Michael Clarke (six not out) joined Watson (83 not out) to administer the last rites for England, who played out the final sessions with a deflating weariness that allowed the hosts to mow through the 231 runs required for victory without breaking sweat.
Watson whipped a boundary square to secure the win in style, and charged down the sun-bathed pitch with arms raised as a crowd of more than 38,000 roared their approval.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. There’s no doubt that the winning feeling is back in our camp,” Clarke told reporters after his team finished a tough year that started with nine straight tests without a win on a high.
“Today could have went one or two ways.
“We could have just got over the line but I think because the boys just have so much confidence in their own ability and in the work that they’ve been putting in, we ended up winning quite convincing today.”
Having started the day needing 201 runs for victory, Rogers added only one run before nicking a Stuart Broad delivery behind but wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, replacement for the dropped Matt Prior, teamed up with Cook to make an absolute mess of the chance.
Bairstow stuck barnacle-like to his mark rather than take the catch that was rightfully his, leaving a late-moving Cook to put down the ball after lunging to his right with one hand.
England heads dropped further when Cook fluffed the simplest of chances shortly after, with Warner driving recklessly at a Ben Stokes delivery to send the nick straight into the skipper’s lap.
Mercifully for Cook, Warner was out for 25 slashing at another Stokes ball to be snaffled by Bairstow, but Rogers marched on.
He rode his luck to his half-century, moving to 49 when an inside edge whistled past the stumps and beat the keeper to run for four, but brought up the milestone with a lovely cut through the covers for two.
He and Watson helped drive Australia past 100, and then opened their shoulders in the last 40 minutes before lunch to smack 113 runs in the morning session.
Rogers gave up another nick two balls after lunch off the bowling of Broad, but a sluggish Bairstow failed to get a hand on the half-chance.
Rogers and Watson cracked boundaries at will, racing to 200 after the 36-year-old opener brought up his ton with a sublime off-drive for four off the bowling of James Anderson.
After Watson raised his second half-century of the series, Rogers was finally dismissed by spinner Monty Panesar for his highest score in test cricket, slashing an edge to Bairstow.
“Doesn’t get better than this to win a Boxing Day test and get 100 on the last day. It’s what dreams are made of,” Rogers said in a pitchside interview after making his second test century in a late-blooming international career.
Like Cook before him in the match, Clarke brought up his 8,000th test run in his short innings, adding another milestone in a year in which he became the first player to reach 1,000 runs.
Australia paceman Mitchell Johnson, who took eight wickets and ran out Joe Root with a brilliant piece of fielding on day three, was named man-of-the-match for a third time in the series following his awards in the Brisbane and Adelaide tests.
Cook’s dropped catches will only add further pressure on the England skipper, who waited an hour and a half before introducing spinner Panesar in the morning, by which time Australia’s batsmen were well on top.
In truth, England surrendered the match on day three when their batsmen collapsed to be all out for 179 after tea, having lost their last five wickets for six runs to hand the initiative straight back to the hosts.
“The good thing about this game is that we got an opportunity to win it,” Cook said.
“In the first half-hour we created three chances. When it’s a low run chase you need to take those chances. We didn’t take them and we got punished for the rest of that.
“There’s a lot of things we are struggling to explain.”
Editing by John O'Brien/Amlan Chakraborty