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Tom Fordyce | 09:08 UK time, Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Melbourne, Victoria

When potential England match-winners were discussed before this series began - Kevin Pietersen with his glamourpuss runs, the showy tweak of Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad's bounce and aggression - the name of Timothy Thomas Bresnan did not pop up in too many conversations.

Pontefract is owed an apology. In a spell of 18 balls just after tea, the Yorkshireman who came to Australia as his country's fifth-choice seamer took three key wickets for only two runs to blow the Aussie top order away and ensure, beyond any reasonable doubt, that England will hold the Ashes for another two years.

The scene at the MCG as stumps were drawn was something that will have Bresnan and his more heralded team-mates smiling all the way to sleep tonight: Australia 169-6, 246 runs behind with all the big-name batsmen gone and only three fit men left, two days of unbroken sunshine to come - no wonder the warm evening air was filled with chorus after celebrating chorus from thousands of jubilant England supporters.

There is nothing remotely showy or glamourpuss about Bresnan. Built like a terraced house, schooled in the down-to-earth confines of Castleford and Townville cricket clubs, he is as complicated as a chip butty, as likely to be found at the wheel of a yellow Lamborghini as Australia captain Ricky Ponting is to be made a UN peace envoy.

The Yorkshire star's dad is called Ray; his mum, Julie, watches him at Headingley with a bottle of bitter in her hand. Everything about him says 1940s throwback, from his angular face and no-nonsense hair with Brylcreem wave to the old-fashioned attributes of relentless line and length which worked such a timeless treat on this strangely English pitch.

In the first innings, Bresnan's miserly spell allowed England skipper Andrew Strauss to regain the control he had lost when Stuart Broad returned home. Here in the second innings Bresnan was summoned to the front when Australia were starting to look a little settled at 99-1, and immediately broke through.

First it was Shane Watson, parked on his customary 50, trapped in front with one that reversed back in. Ponting, the head of the beast, was lopped off with another in-cutter that cannoned into the timbers from a bottom edge. Then, with the roars from the Barmy Army still ringing round the Great Southern Stand, Bresnan bagged the biggest of them all - Mike Hussey, tempted into an uppish drive at one moving away from him, pouched at short extra cover by Ian Bell to trigger delirium from slips round to deep square leg.

Ricky Ponting feels the Ashes slipping away after being bowled by Tim Bresnan - photo: PA

It was not meant to end this way for Ponting.

The best Australian batsman of his generation was booed to the crease when he strode in after Watson's needless run-out of Phillip Hughes, a paltry 97 runs to his name from his seven innings in the series so far and the weight of a failing team lying heavy across his shoulders.

Once he was feared by English teams down under, a merciless destroyer who would cut and pull an attack to pieces.

Here he looked a shadow of a different player, not even the old aggression visible, the big shots locked away and the belligerence all from the bowlers as he dug in with grim determination.

I might not be scoring like I used to, he seemed to be saying, but I'm not going to give you anything at all. Forget the sort of pugnacious drives that might lead to another wonder-catch for Paul Collingwood at third slip, or the leg-side flicks that might induce another strangle off the hips for Matt Prior behind the timbers. You will have to prise me off this crease with a hammer and chisel. This Punter is taking no chances.

It took Ponting 15 balls to get off the mark, 39 to hit his first boundary, a squirt off the outside edge that fizzed past the slips to the third man boards.

Twice in single figures he was hit on the front pad, his bat coming across late and angled, surviving by slim centimetres in television referrals and blinking back at the umpires with heart pounding in his chest.

James Anderson kept him poking uncertainly. Watson could not get off strike at the other end. Chris Tremlett continued the assault when Anderson tired.

The sight of Bresnan limbering up his meaty arms probably gave Ponting something of a lift. He had seen off the established leader of the pack and escaped from the sights of the man who had taken his scalp in the first innings. Maybe now was the time to start fighting back.

If the ball was a good one, the shot was poor. Ponting's bat was diagonal, his back foot barely across. With that dreadful clatter, his stumps were spread.

Bresnan barrelled off into the embrace of the close fielders, right arm raised in delighted salutation. Ponting gave a last look at the track and trudged off.

He had scored just 20 from 73 balls. For a run-of-the-mill opener that would have been disappointing. For a warrior of Ponting's gifts and ambitions, at this stage of both the series and his career, it was nowhere near enough.

Before this game, Bresnan was considered by many to be the definition of an honest county trundler: big on application, but short of stardust. On his Test debut in May 2009 he had failed to take a single wicket against a poor West Indies side, and was overshadowed by others in the easy wins over Bangladesh during the first part of this year.

To bring him in for Steve Finn, England's leading wicket-taker in the series so far, appeared both a gamble and play-safe strategy. Where would the wickets come from? Did he really have the weapons to trouble true top-flight performers?

Tuesday afternoon provided some answers. Just as Tremlett had before him, Bresnan demonstrated the strength in depth that England now have in their bowling ranks. Even with Broad injured and Finn weary-legged, not to mention Graham Onions back in Blighty recovering from the stress fracture in his back, Strauss has Test-class replacements ready to step in and swell the ranks.

What Ponting would give for such rich resources. With Ryan Harris almost certainly out of the series with a stress fracture to his ankle and Mitchell Johnson back in random delivery mode with 2-134 from 29 wayward overs, the Australia captain will have to chase a series-squaring win in Sydney with an attack that only occasionally offers him menace or meanness.

Barring earthquakes or acts of God, England will polish off this match on Wednesday with hours and hours to spare. The Ashes are secured. Now they must be won outright.

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