Bresnan rises to the occasion as England put bubbly on ice

YORKSHIRE seam bowler Tim Bresnan has always had his eye on the big stage – and when his turn came in the fourth Test, he rose emphatically to the occasion.

It was no surprise to him either that he should play such a prominent role in putting England on the verge of retaining the Ashes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Bresnan has always been convinced he is at his best when the stakes are high and the world expects.

So it was when he began his second spell from the Members' end after tea on day three – and 18 balls later, at the cost of just two runs, he had dismantled three of the cornerstones of Australian resistance.

Demonstrating an expert control of reverse-swing, which belies many of the cliched preconceptions about the burly all-rounder's cricketing skills, he started by deceiving opener Shane Watson, who played no shot to a delivery which snaked back in for lbw.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting and series mainstay Michael Hussey followed and by stumps the hosts were 169-6 – still 246 runs short of avoiding an innings defeat, conceding a 2-1 lead and saying goodbye to the urn again.

England's apparently impregnable match position was built on a near perfect exhibition of first-innings seam and swing bowling, in ideal conditions, as Australia were hustled out for just 98 and then Jonathan Trott's unbeaten 168 in a total of 513 all out.

But from 95-1 at tea, with Watson and an ultra-determined Ponting in situ, it required something special to break the back of Australia's second innings in conditions much-improved from their first-day capitulation.

Enter Bresnan (3-26), bristling with self-belief and lots of skill.

Modest when he reflected on his achievements, he was happy to point out, too, that he knew he had it in him. "I do like being under the pump, I think," said the Yorkshireman.

"I do like the big occasion, and I do like being under pressure – I think it brings out the best in me – so why wouldn't it be in the Boxing Day Test in Australia?"

England have long preached the virtue of bowling in partnerships, and there are three others who have taken 10 Australia wickets between them in this Test.

Bresnan, another triumph of England's selection policy – making his first appearance of the series and replacing previous leading wicket-taker Steven Finn – said: "It doesn't matter who really takes the wickets.

"It just happens (yesterday was) my day; it's a very good feeling.

"I don't know if the selection is a rotation thing; probably the best way to describe it would be horses for courses."

Bresnan, watched by mother and father Julie and Ray on their first trip to Australia, duly excelled himself as England put the champagne on ice ahead of their expected celebrations.

He out-thought Watson (54), who nonetheless insisted afterwards he already had great respect for Bresnan's bowling.

That can only have been enhanced, and Watson admitted at stumps that there is little hope left for Australia. Asked if the Ashes have gone again, he said: "Just about.

"After playing so well in Perth and feeling like we have a big chance of really being in the series and winning the Ashes, now to be in the position that we are after our poor performance in this whole game is very shattering."

Australia began their second innings with a huge deficit of 415 – even though Peter Siddle's 6-75 had helped hustle out England's last five wickets for just 54 – and needed to bat again for more than half the match to survive.

Watson was beginning to have hopeful thoughts, however, until Bresnan had his say.

"Getting through Tremlett's spell was a big plus," said Watson.

"We felt we were in a great place, and then, unfortunately, it all went pear-shaped from there – me getting out lbw and then losing the wickets that we have. It's just extremely disappointing."

Watson had to issue the umpteenth vote of confidence, from the ranks, for Ponting's future as Test captain.

His faith in his captain appeared genuine and heart-felt. "He's a very, very tough man mentally – as he has shown throughout his whole career.

"Everyone will always be right behind Ricky. He has been a brilliant leader for us. He's such an amazing player.

"With a few things going his way, he'll be able to turn things around.

"There's no doubt no one will ever question his ability to be able to lead the group."

Whoever is in charge for next week's final Test in Sydney, the message is obvious. But Watson obediently spelled it out.

"We have to try and restore some pride. The Australian fans have come out and supported us – and we haven't really given them anything to support.

"We really have to go out there in Sydney and try to keep some of our supporters on side – because unfortunately, the way we played, we might have turned a few people off."

With the result of the match all but settled, talk turns to the future of Ponting.

One question for the selectors, though, is whether vice-captain Michael Clarke is ready to make the step up and replace him.

Clarke stepped in to Adam Gilchrist's shoes as Ponting's deputy for both the Test and one-day teams in 2008, while he is the full-time captain of the Twenty20 side.

But despite that experience, no less a figure than Cricket Australia's chief executive James Sutherland has admitted questions remain over whether Clarke's celebrity lifestyle could detract from his leadership if he was put in full charge of the Test team.

"I think it's probably one of the reasons why the board has always reserved judgment," Sutherland told ABC Radio.

"The board take on the cricketing considerations and whatever other considerations they want, so it's a whole person-type role, and that's something the board have always taken into account when they make those appointments, and the weight in which they might take cricketing considerations against other considerations are obviously within their mandate.

"If what you're getting at there is talking about Michael Clarke, the vice-captain, and his potential as a leader, well that's something that's of distinct interest to us and ensuring that he can continue to develop.

"You don't know how you're going to be as captain until you get there."

HARRIS INJURY BLOW FOR SYDNEY

Ryan HARRIS is set to miss the final Ashes Test in Sydney after suffering a stress fracture of his left ankle.

The fast bowler had to leave the field on the third morning of the fourth Test in Melbourne, and it seemed unlikely that he would be able to bat.

Cricket Australia doctor Trefor James said: "Ryan developed ankle pain during England's first innings, and scans have revealed that he has a stress fracture of his left ankle.

"He is likely to require surgery and will consult a specialist in the next 24 hours."