Melboune (AP) England was hit by COVID-19 dramas within its support staff on Monday before its batsmen sustained another top-order collapse at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as Australia moved within sight of a series-clinching victory in the Ashes.

Before play even began on Monday, Cricket Australia called for calm after a COVID-19 scare involving England’s support staff resulted in a 30-minute delay to the start of the second day of play in the third test.

Australia was bowled out for 267 as the home side grabbed a first-innings advantage of 82 runs, before England struggled to 31-4 in its second innings at stumps on Monday.

England seamer James Anderson gave a masterful display, claiming the key wickets of Marcus Harris (76) and Steve Smith (16) in his tally of 4-33 off 23 overs.

But England’s batters were soon under attack again. Mitchell Starc (2-11) dismissed Zak Crawley, caught behind for 5, and Dawid Malan, leg before without scoring, in consecutive deliveries.

Debutant Scott Boland (2-1) delighted his home crowd of 42,626 roaring fans by removing opener Haseeb Hameed for 7 and Jack Leach without scoring in the penultimate over of the day.

With Ben Stokes and Joe Root at the crease, England had lost four wickets after just 12 overs and still required another 51 runs to make Australia bat again.

On the bowling front, I thought we did really well to stick at our task throughout the day, Anderson said.

England’s all-time leading wicket-taker said the tourists were pretty pleased to bowl Australia out for 267.

We knew that last 12 overs were going to be pretty tough with the new ball. But even so, to lose four wickets was really disappointing, Anderson said.

I don’t want to get into much of a bowlers-versus-batters sort of thing because we’re a team here and we’re all working hard to try to get better.

Anderson said it was his best bowling performance in Australia since 2010.

I was in a really good rhythm. Late in the first session, I felt like I was going to get a wicket every ball, said Anderson, 39.

Australia’s Harris was celebrating his first half-century of the series.

It can be hard when the team’s going well and you haven’t quite contributed like you want to. Talk starts about your spot in the team, Harris said.

Harris said the support from the coaching staff and selectors had been amazing during his lean run of form.

Harris said the crowd of 42,626 fans on Monday felt like about 100,000 when Australia’s bowlers claimed four wickets late in the day’s play.

That was a great atmosphere. That’s something you dream of as a kid to be a part of, he said.

Earlier, Cricket Australia’s chief executive Nick Hockley said there was no need to change current plans, which include staging the fourth and fifth tests in Sydney and Hobart, respectively.

We just need to remain calm and get the facts, Hockley said.

In a day of early drama, Cricket Australia released a statement confirming the COVID-19 outbreak within the England camp, which delayed the team’s arrival at the MCG and caused a 30-minute delay to the start of play.

Cricket Australia has been informed that two members of the England cricket team’s support staff and two of their family members have returned a positive COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test, the statement said.

The affected individuals are currently isolating.

Australia captain Pat Cummins was unable to play in the second test after becoming a close contact of a COVID-19 case.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, England’s tours of South Africa and Sri Lanka were abandoned mid-tour due to COVID concerns.

Australia leads the five-match series 2-0, which means England needs to win all three remaining matches to regain the Ashes. (AP)

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