By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia captain Michael Clarke was left to thank his bowlers and centurion Chris Rogers for the hosts' escape in the fourth Ashes test on Sunday, having risked his team's winning streak by opting to bowl first after winning the toss.
Australia completed a dominant win by eight wickets at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday to take a 4-0 lead in the series but Clarke admitted his decision had haunted him throughout the match.
Credited for his aggressive captaincy and his setting of imaginative fields, Clarke has also shown himself a dab hand at calling the toss, winning it all four times in the series to date.
He had resolutely played the percentages up until Melbourne, putting his team in to bat in the three previous victories in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Clarke and his backroom colleagues gleaned something in the MCG's green-tinged pitch and overcast conditions in the morning that few others did, but immediately revealed his discomfort with the decision in a television interview after sending his team into the field on day one.
The queasy feeling can only have grown stronger as England survived to stumps at 226-6, with the hosts' best batsman Kevin Pietersen leading from the front.
"When you win the toss and bowl, the result always dictates whether you'll be criticised or applauded," Clarke told reporters.
"Was it the right decision or not? Well the result will say yes, but after the first five overs on day one, the wicket certainly played better than I expected it to.
"It certainly wasn't our bowlers I was second guessing, it was more the fact that I was hoping that the grass on the wicket and the overhead conditions were going to do a little more than they did."
Fortunately for Clarke, man-of-the-match Mitchell Johnson intervened early on day two, tearing through the England tail to finish with five wickets and wrap up their innings for 255.
Despite wicketkeeper Brad Haddin's serial rescues, Australia's batsmen have also proved frail throughout the series and collapsed to be all out for 204, to concede a 51-run first innings lead.
Openers Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry appeared set to carry England to a dominant position, but Johnson intervened again, trapping the England skipper in front for 51 with a searing inswinger that turned the game on its head.
England limped to tea at 115-4 and were then duly routed in the final session of day three as spinner Nathan Lyon and their own scrambled shot selection handed the momentum straight back to the hosts.
The 36-year-old Rogers did the rest, cementing his place at the top of Australia's order for the forseeable future with a glittering 116 as Australia mowed through the required 231 runs for victory before tea on day four.
Rogers had hitherto looked as comfortable out on the crease as with his place in the team, eking out runs through painstaking graft amid a litany of half-hearted prods and a smattering of false shots.
However, in Australia's second innings he emerged like an innocent man sprung from prison.
Rogers stunned home fans at the MCG by eclipsing the run-rate of his swashbuckling partner David Warner and unleashed a breathtaking array of cuts, pulls and drives for 14 boundaries in his 155-ball knock.
"I think it was a fantastic innings," Clarke gushed. "A match-winning innings and he deserves a lot of credit for it.
"As captain of the team I certainly haven't felt that Chris is under pressure for his spot ... I think Chris has done everything that I've asked as captain.
"He's an important part of this team and I think for his team mates it was very special to see him raise his bat for his hundred, and on his home ground the MCG as well." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)