| Steve Waugh tries to ward off a Steve Harmison delivery on the final day of the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne Monday. (AFP)
Melbourne: Australia overcame a spirited England fightback Monday to win the fourth Test by five wickets and take a 4-0 lead in the five-match Ashes series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Needing 107 to win and starting the day on eight without loss, Australia almost made a mess of the target and slumped to 90 for five before reaching 107 for five.
Rookie Martin Love and vice-captain Adam Gilchrist saw the side home through before lunch on the last day.
Gilchrist cut fast bowler Steve Harmison for the winning boundary. Australia thus finished 2002 with ten wins from 11 Tests.
In an eventful session, Australia started by losing opener Matthew Hayden on the first ball of the day.
After a 50-run stand between Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting, Australia lost four wickets for 32 as Andy Caddick and Harmison took three and two wickets, respectively.
A win in the final Test in Sydney beginning Thursday will enable Steve Waugh’s side to match Warwick Armstrong’s Australians of 1920-21 — the only previous team to complete a 5-0 clean sweep in the Ashes.
Waugh became the most successful Australian captain with 33 wins from 44 Tests. He passed Allan Border, who had 32 wins from 92. West Indies great Clive Lloyd holds the record for maximum wins — 36 from 74.
The match was highlighted by Langer’s 250 in the first innings and his 195-run opening stand with Hayden, who made 102. After Australia had scored 551 for six declared, England was forced to follow-on after being dismissed for 270.
Michael Vaughan’s flawless 145 in England’s second innings helped the visitors to their highest total of the series — 387 — as the match spilled over into the third day.
Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill marked his return to Test cricket with five for 152.
Vaughan, who finished the year with 1481 runs including six centuries, also helped England avoid an innings defeat for the third Test in a row. After winning the first Test in Brisbane by 384 runs, Australia hammered the tourists in Adelaide by an innings and 51 runs, and followed it up in Perth with an innings and 48-run win.
Since winning back the Ashes under Allan Border in 1988 Australia have held it under Mark Taylor and now Waugh.
Shane Warne, despite missing the Test with an injured shoulder, finished the year as the top wicket-taker — 67 at an average of 19.55 in ten Tests.
Off-spinners Harbhajan Singh and Muttiah Muralidharan finished with 63 and 55 wickets, respectively.
McGrath out, Hogg in
Glenn McGrath has been ruled out of the fifth Test because of a side muscle strain. Uncapped 28-year-old Western Australia seamer Brad Williams has been included in the squad.
Also making the 13-member squad was left-arm wrist spinner Brad Hogg.
The 31-year-old from Western Australia played one Test in 1996-97 against India.
About McGrath, team physiotherapist Errol Alcott said: “It is a soft tissue (rib) injury and we are confident it will resolve over the short term but in the meantime I felt it was prudent for him to miss this next Test.”
The injury ends McGrath’s run of 54 consecutive Tests since October 1998 in Rawalpindi against Pakistan.
“It would have been nice to play and try to end the series in style but you have to look at the team perspective and not your own,” said McGrath.