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Nasser Hussain
Cricket Expert & Columnist

Ashes 2013/14: England's batsmen are running out of excuses after MCG collapses

Pietersen and Cook played sensibly but line-up has been failing for too long...

England's batsmen are running out of excuses after folding again to hand Australia control of the fourth Ashes Test, says Nasser Hussain.

Bairstow disappointed at collapse

The tourists collapsed from 86-1 to 87-4 and then lost their last five wickets for six runs to be bowled out for just 179 in their second innings on day three, with spinner Nathan Lyon returning 5-50.

Set 231 to win and take a 4-0 lead in the series, Australia advanced to 30-0 before stumps, and Hussain told Sky Sports that England's batsmen have plenty of explaining to do after another dire display.

"It came as a shock on that wicket against that off-spinner," reflected the former England captain. "Lyon is a decent off-spinner, a very good lad who works very hard at his game. He does a role for Australia.

Trouble

"If the middle order or tail is blown away by Mitchell Johnson, I'd say 'fair enough'. But an off-spinner shouldn't get five for next to nothing on a non-spinning pitch and blow England away.

"They lost eight wickets for seven runs in two collapses. You won't win many games from that position. They might find some reverse swing and the bowlers might pull them out of trouble again tomorrow, but the batting has not been good enough for a while now. This isn't just a one off.

"England are running out of excuses. All summer we heard 'wait until we get onto pitches with a bit of pace and bounce because we love batting on those sorts of pitches - it suits our style of play'.

"Well, they've had all sorts of pitches here in Australia and none of them have suited them.

"They even had a lead here today - there was no scoreboard pressure; they were coasting at lunch and then all of a sudden they still collapse.

"This side has some explaining to do. They are all very good players with good records. But the bowlers must be looking at them and saying 'come on guys, it's been hot out here, it's been hard work. Is there any danger of us putting our feet up for a day and a half?'

"All eyes are now on Australia. If they try and rush it tomorrow, they might come a cropper but if they are patient they'll be alright."

Problems

England had earlier bowled Australia out for 204 to take a first-innings lead of 51 and appeared in a solid position second time around at 65-1 before Michael Carberry fell lbw to Peter Siddle, Joe Root was run out by a Johnson direct hit and Ian Bell chipped his first ball, from Lyon, to mid-off.

Hussain said the loss of three wickets for one run points to an underlying fragility in England's line-up.

"Generally Bell has looked a class act in this series but he has given away a few soft dismissals - whether it be to Steven Smith in Adelaide or here first ball today," he said.

"The Root run out was a little bit understandable because everyone had been saying 'come on, put pressure on the fielders, rotate the strike' and Root loves to knock it and run. But the ball bounced up beautifully for Johnson and it was a good bit of fielding.

"A lot of the problems come from that change in the batting line-up. Root is symptomatic of that because he's gone from six to one to six to three and there is no stability in this line up.

"It has gone very quickly from a side where everyone knew where they were batting, with Jonathan Trott the rock at number three, to one where people are batting in different positions with different partners.

"But really these are little excuses for a batting line-up that has been failing for too long. They have just not got the runs that they should and they've played Johnson on flat pitches.

Pietersen back in the runs

"It's not as if they've been playing on minefields. There are just not enough runs from the top order."

Responsibility

Aside from Alastair Cook's 51 off 64 balls, Kevin Pietersen was the only other batsman to take the attack to Australia - his 49 coming off 90 balls with six fours - and Hussain said England's number four looked a class act.

"He played beautifully. At times he seemed to be batting on a different pitch to everyone else. He was quite fluent, very sensible.

"He was also more responsible against Johnson - he hogged the strike off him a lot more and protected other guys - but Pietersen can't bat both ends.

"Some guy has to take responsibility at the other end."

Watch highlights of today's play from 4pm on Sky Sports 2. The Ashes Verdict delivers its judgement at 9pm before Ashes Extra returns ahead of live coverage of day four, which gets underway at 11pm - also on Sky Sports 2.