England's Ashes on the canvas after Boxing Day pounding

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England's hopes of keeping the Ashes alive plunged on Sunday as their batsmen failed again to stand up on a dismal opening day of the third Test against Australia in Melbourne.

Sent in to bat on a grassy wicket after Australia won the toss, England were skittled for 185 to the delight of a festive Boxing Day crowd, leaving the tourists' bowlers with an improbable rescue mission.

By stumps, that mission appeared doomed as opener David Warner thrashed a quickfire 38 and Australia pushed to 61 for one, with Marcus Harris 20 not out and nightwatchman Nathan Lyon yet to score.

Leading 2-0 after thumping wins in Brisbane and Adelaide, holders Australia need only a draw in Melbourne to retain the urn.

But Pat Cummins' men will be hell-bent on taking the series proper before the New Year's test in Sydney.

England, meanwhile, need a miracle.

Only one team has ever turned around a 2-0 deficit to win the Ashes. That was Don Bradman's Australia who came back to win the 1936/37 series 3-2 on home soil.

Though forced to miss Adelaide after being pinged as a close contact of a COVID-19 case, Cummins wasted no time resuming his torment of Joe Root's men.

Winning the toss on a cool and overcast morning, Cummins claimed three quick wickets to validate his decision to attack.

England's rejigged opening partnership of Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed lasted 12 balls before Cummins had Hameed caught behind for a duck.

Crawley, who replaced the dumped Rory Burns, managed 12 before edging Cummins straight to Cameron Green in the gully.

The Australia skipper bagged his third wicket in the last over before lunch, having David Malan (14) edge to the slips to break a budding 48-run partnership with Root.

Root brought up his ninth half-century in Australia soon after the break but was caught behind for 50 with an unsightly, loose shot off paceman Mitchell Starc.

The England captain now shares the unenviable record of the most test fifties in Australia without making a century (9) with former Australia opener Bruce Laird.

England's poor start rapidly spiralled as talisman Ben Stokes (25) and wicketkeeper Jos Buttler (3) both fell to dreadful strokes.

Recalled batsman Jonny Bairstow battled for his 35 but was forced to slog for quick runs as his batting partners dwindled.

He was out trying to duck a venomous Starc delivery that caught his bat and looped to the gully where Green dived forward for a terrific catch.

Australia paceman Scott Boland grabbed a wicket on his test debut, trapping Mark Wood lbw for six.

Spinner Lyon cleaned up the tail to finish with 3-36.

Australia's openers raced to 57 before veteran paceman James Anderson finally broke through, having Warner edge to Crawley in the gully.

All-rounder Stokes did his best to soften up Harris with some short-pitched bowling and drew blood from the opener's finger after rapping him on the glove.

But Harris survived and nicked Stokes's final ball just wide of the slips for four, capping a forgettable opening day for England.

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