By David Brett
MELBOURNE, Dec 27 (Reuters) - England finally wrestled back some momentum on day two of the fourth Ashes test on Friday but are yet to find an answer to Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin's defiance with the bat.
The tourists may have surrendered the Ashes after a hat-trick of defeats but the second day's play at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was classic attritional cricket as the English bowlers restricted the hosts to 164 for nine, to go with an unflattering run rate of 2.23, at stumps.
It was not pretty cricket to watch but it was clear that England had done their homework, made plans and, more importantly, their bowlers were sticking to them.
More to their credit, the MCG's drop-in pitch played stubbornly straight for the most part on a sunny day.
"There wasn't much there," James Anderson, who took 3-50, told reporters.
Stuart Broad claimed 3-30 while fellow paceman Tim Bresnan took 2-24.
"There was some reverse and some point in the day, but there wasn't really much seam movement or anything. So we had to work really hard, be patient and work with the guy at the other end," said Anderson.
"We were all trying to bowl maidens and bowl dots, and as boring as it sounds that's the way to go on that pitch and it worked well for us."
The bowlers conceded just four extras in 73.3 overs, and only 58 runs off 29 overs in the middle session.
Having batted first, this was the first time in the series England sensed a lead of any kind to protect and their pacemen replied with a disciplined performance.
With their bowlers operating predominantly outside the off-stump to offside-heavy fields, England strangled Australia's batsmen even more effectively than the hosts had stifled their own.
Australia's number five batsman Steven Smith was starved of his favoured leg-side scoring shots - 80 percent of runs in his Perth century came on the leg-side - and was eventually frustrated into a rash cut shot that was snaffled in the slips.
Smith scored 19 runs off 77 deliveries at a strike rate of 24.67, compared to his 53-plus in the first innings at Perth.
The Australian batsman who remains a thorn in England's side, however, is Haddin who finished the day unbeaten on 43.
Australia have been in trouble in each of their first innings so far. They were 83-4 at Brisbane, 174-4 at Adelaide and 129-4 at Perth before Haddin bailed them out on all three occasions.
Haddin has the second highest average with the bat in the series - his 73.60 bettered only by David Warner's 77.66 - but with Australia still 91 runs behind, even he is unlikely to prevent England taking a substantial first innings lead.
England, desperate to prevent a series whitewash, will badly need it on MCG's drop-in pitch where the lowest total defended is 142, while the highest run chase is 332.
"We'd have liked a few more runs this morning," Anderson said of England's 255, improbably, their highest first innings total in the series.
"But then having spoken to our batters last night we knew we could make it difficult for them to score because it's quite a slow pitch. If we set the right fields and bowled in the right areas we could get some rewards - and we did that.
"It's going to be difficult for us. We've seen how difficult it is to score on there.
"It might be slow going for us tomorrow, but if we get stuck in, hopefully we can get a reasonable lead." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)