Their supporters teased about praying for rain but, once again, England were blown away by Australia, surviving just under an hour on the final morning, capitulating to a crushing 218-run defeat without so much as a whimper.
A rudderless, dazed and scared England now have just four days to turn their tour around as they head to the WACA, and its faster, bouncier wicket. On the evidence of this summer’s first two Test matches, England are a side in decline.
The procession of pundits, former players and fans queuing up to take aim at this side lengthened as the thrashing was completed. Geoffrey Boycott used his column in the London Daily Telegraph to declare that there is “not a cat in hell’s chance” of England retaining the Ashes. Michael Vaughan said in the same paper “this series will end 5-0 to Australia unless there is a massive improvement in England’s attitude desire and performance”, while Jonathan Agnew described Alastair Cook’s dismissal as “so out of character that you almost had to double check that it really was the England captain under his helmet”. George Dobell, of ESPNcricinfo, believes “the unavoidable impression you have when you look into the eyes of several of this England team is that the belief has gone”.
Knives are sharpening and England head to Perth with careers on the line and the parallels with the “Ashes horribilis” of 2006-07 becoming all too clear.
Day five provided a pretty decent summary of England’s contribution to this Test match. They leave the Adelaide Oval having lost 21 wickets to catches on the leg-side this series after Stuart Broad and Matt Prior became the third and fourth Englishmen to fall hooking in an innings that required the patience shown by Joe Root, a boy in appearance only, on Day four. Once these two big wickets were gone, the tail were blown away. Graeme Swann, once a competent Test match number eight, fended outside off once more before Monty Panesar pushed meekly to cover to put an end to England’s misery. Prior’s return to form – his 69 was his first test 50 since March – was a silver-lining on the darkest of English clouds.
The perception is that England are a team on the wane. Swann doesn’t appear to have that sparkle that made him a match-winner here three years ago; Anderson and Broad are not only down on pace but can’t find reverse swing; Kevin Pietersen’s hunger has come under question; as has the state of Alastair Cook’s muddled mind. Their fielding, particularly their catching, has regressed and the high fives and fist-bumps of 2010 are conspicuous only for their absence. It’s been dire stuff from a team who only 15 months ago stood atop the world rankings.
England’s second innings 312 was their highest score of the series and did throw up positives. Not just Root, Pietersen and Prior’s half-centuries, but Ben Stokes’ application, too. They also took their first steps to taming man-of-the-match Johnson, who after his dismissal of Cook went wicketless for 17 overs across six spells. It would be a shock to see him do the same at the WACA in four days time, though.
Yet, despite these pint-sized positives, for Michael Carberry, Cook and Ian Bell to fall in the manner they did – all playing attacking leg sides strokes – will particularly irk Graham Gooch and Andy Flower. This time there was no dramatic collapse to report but the top order courage and single-mindedness, Root apart, was simply not of the depth required.
It was the Northern Ashes’ most well-worn cliche that England’s 3-0 victory was owed to “winning the big moments”. At every “big moment” in Adelaide, England lost their heads or Australia summoned a moment of brilliance. On the first afternoon, England dropped catches. On the second morning, Stokes overstepped. On the third day, Warner swooped low to his left to see off Carberry after Kevin Pietersen had fallen into the simplest of traps. The key moments of days four and five were the wickets of Cook, Bell and Broad. All three of these dismissals will haunt the nightmares of England’s devoted travelling support.
The Barmy Army sung loud and proud until Rogers snaffled Monty, but there were understandable grumbles, especially after the England players appeared for just the most fleeting of moments at the end of the game. Henry Gane, who had travelled from Brighton for the Adelaide Test, described England’s performance as “spineless”. He said: “I don’t mind seeing England lose, but to go down like that was depressing. It was great to watch cricket in Adelaide, but the manner of some of the dismissals – we lost four men hooking in the second innings – was farcical.” The Barmies will no doubt be in good voice in Perth come Friday and deserve better than their team are currently managing.
Cook, looking downtrodden and dispirited as his side’s submissive performance had suggested, paid tribute to England’s fans and promised that they would come out fighting in Perth. “We have to look hard into ourselves, deep into the inner soul and drag the performance out of ourselves. A 2-0 lead is not insurmountable,” he said.
“We can’t mope about feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to hold our hands up and say we haven’t been good enough. We have to drag the runs out of ourselves, drag the wickets out of ourselves.”
With Australia rampant, the weakness of England’s performance was matched only by another tame performance from the on-field umpires, Kumar Dharmasena and Marais Erasmus. Not only are they unable to calm cantankerous relations between the two sides, but they appear unprepared to give an lbw decision, while the sight of the right arm aloft for a front-foot no ball is a thing of the past.
As Australia wheeled away in celebration of Panesar’s wicket, they checked, for the fifth time in England’s innings, for Harris’ front foot. Unsurprisingly, it was behind the line and the moment, one of true theatre, was ruined.
Over the next 24 hours we can expect to hear a good deal from the match referee, Jeff Crowe, whose pre-match chat with the teams did little to fray the tempers. The bad blood peaked on Sunday when Johnson barged Stokes, before a heated exchange with Broad as the players left the field at stumps. It’s just not cricket, as they say.