Frustrated England lost four wickets in a late spell, leaving them still 51 runs behind and struggling to cope with a loss at stumps on the second day of the third Ashes Test against Australia on Monday.
It came after the visitors – who should win in Melbourne – were shaken by four positive Covid cases in their camp, although none of them were players.
Australia were all out for 267, taking a 185-run lead in England’s first innings to take an 82-run lead on the MCG pitch, which still offered plenty for the bowlers.
Marcus Harris smashed 76 against a dangerous English attack led by veteran Jimmy Anderson, who was at his best with 4-33 in 23 overs.
After heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, England would have to win to survive the five-Test series, with Australia only needing a draw to retain the urn as holders.
But faced with a survival against a revived Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in the final hour, England fell again, slipping to 31 for nearly four wickets.
Struggling opener Jacques Crowley never looked comfortable and after dodging 15 deliveries, he was caught for five off Starc by wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
David Malan came on, but after an unsuccessful review, Starc was incredibly dismissed lbw off the first ball, then Scott Boland ruined Haseeb Hameed’s day for seven, with Carey taking the lead.
Walked out, Boland bowled two deliveries to Jack Leach, leaving captain Joe Root for 12 and Ben Stokes for two and England in deep trouble.
England earlier took their chance with key wickets from Marnus Labuschagne (1) and Steve Smith (16) as well as nightwatchman Nathan Lyon before lunch.
Harris (76) and Travis Head (27) surrendered in the second session before England removed the rest.
Australia scored 61 for one with Harris starting on 20 under pressure after a poor series so far.
But he was stung as the Australian wickets rolled around him and could only make his third 50 in 13 Tests and his first 50 in two years to repay coach Justin Langer’s confidence.
He then fell for 76 with a brilliant Anderson and was taken at slip by Root.
Head, who scored a fine 152 in the first Test in Brisbane, played a fine 27 before being caught by a possible delivery from Ollie Robinson, which Root caught for a 60-run stand with Harris.
With the game starting half an hour late after the Covid play in the England camp, the team had to undergo immediate rapid antigen tests as they were about to leave for the MCG.
All the players came negative, but two support staff and two family members were found positive.
The coronavirus affected the second Test in Adelaide, with Australian captain Cummins ruled out just before the start due to close contact with a positive Covid-19 case.
When play resumed, Lyon could not hold on, leaving Jos Buttler behind the stumps for 10 runs off Robinson’s full-length delivery.
Harris hit an early boundary off Anderson but was cautious. He survived a review decision on 36 after being dismissed lbw and his luck finally ran out before a difficult stumping on 63.
The new number one Test batsman, Labuschagne, was a rare failure, undone by the pace of Mark Wood, dismissing Root in a big moment for a resurgent England.
Harris was also joined by the usually reliable Smith, who scored 16 runs before being bowled by Anderson and set up the match in full swing.
Head also succumbed to Robinson’s delivery in the safe hands of Root, then Leach lbw Cameron Green for 17 runs.
Stokes also dismissed Carey for 17 before Cummins and Starc came late and Starc added valuable extra runs.