This Ashes series has become an embarrassment – for England at least. A mercy rule might have been in play on day three in Perth as the tourists, already on the canvas with a pitiless opponent glowering above, produced their worst single day of the summer.
Only the last rites remain now for Alastair Cook’s team. Prepare the tickertape parade and the rooftop bus and a gong for Darren ‘Boof’ Lehmann, the knockabout coach who has pulled the strands together so brilliantly for Australia.
England’s tail-end collapsed, then wicketkeeper Matthew Prior made three errors, gifting David Warner a century. Prior could not catch a cold, agent provocateur Stuart Broad was smashed in the foot by Mitchell Johnson leaving England a bowler down, and Australia ended with an unassailable lead of 369 and two days to clinch the series triumph.
The series has been so one-sided that it feels like a time warp, as though it is 2006 and Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath is about to pop out in a baggy green cap. Close your eyes and think of Warnie cavorting and waving a stump on the pavilion balcony.
England played third-rate cricket, frying in the WACA heat, and then walked into a bloke quite happy to put the boots in. ‘Bam Bam’ Warner, who should have been stumped by Prior off Graeme Swann when he was 13, poured on the pain. Prior missed him again after Swann beat him in flight at 89, and in between poor Swann had to watch Warner advancing and smashing him to the boundary; the world’s best off-spinner has had a tour to forget.
Prior’s slipshod day came to symbolise England’s fate. When Chris Rogers nicked Jimmy Anderson’s slider at 27, Prior’s failure to go for a catch that was obviously his meant that Cook, at first slip, had to make a late dive that would end in a dropped catch.
Warner was lucky, but his series has been a revelation. He has two centuries plus an unbeaten 84 in Adelaide to show for the fact his method has been ever-so-slightly modified. For a few minutes, the old Bam Bam returned, wanting to hit almost every ball to the boundary, but ironically it was the first missed chance that pulled him back into line. Plainly he is highly dangerous, but now he is finding effectiveness too, and consistency, without losing his flair.
England lost its last six wickets for 71 runs in the morning session, and its total of 251 was pitiful after an opening stand of 85. Indeed its first-innings in the series – 136 (Brisbane), 172 (Adelaide) and 251 (Perth) – have given the bowlers no chance. Warner’s century was the sixth of the series by an Australian against none for the tourists.
The Australian seamers were ruthless and relentless, hardly bowling a poor ball despite the heat, and showing the influence of bowling coach Craig McDermott. Typical was Ryan Harris’ clever prising out of Ian Bell. Harris bowled hooping outswinger (left by Bell), hooping outswinger (left again), then inswinger, hitting the front pad and winning an lbw decision on review. Even the DRS is going Australia’s way this summer, as opposed to the winter series in England.
Australia’s position is strengthened by the state of the pitch, with the cracks opening up so far that the Channel Nine commentators had a smart phone in one of the crevices before play. And that was before the 40-degree heat baked it some more. One ball to Chris Rogers went at a crazy angle off a crack and hit the Australian opener in the chest; it hurt Rogers but doubtless the English batsmen drew little comfort from that moment.
They have to bat on it sometime tomorrow, most likely chasing at least 450.