Pink Day. Whitewash Day. Red Letter Day. Heck, Australia Day. Call it what you want.
And they haven’t just won 5-0. This Test lasted just three days but none has gone beyond lunch on the fifth. They have nailed an England side once the world’s finest, breaking stumps, bats, bones, reputations and careers along the way.
This England team has developed a penchant for collapsing in recent months, but the hour that followed tea on the third day at the SCG will live long in any Australian memory as the icing (not to mention the cherry) on the sweetest, fluffiest, most delicious tea-time gateau they ever had the pleasure to sink their teeth into.
At 3.30, England emerged from tea three down in the innings. By 4.25, they were five down in the series. Australia huddled, they hugged and they spread to all corners to salute a delirious SCG crowd. They broke with tradition by singing their victory song – Under the Southern Cross – out on the pitch instead of in the privacy of the dressing room.
Australia have waited for this moment. Since the halcyon days of Hayden, Langer, Warne and McGrath (whose Foundation put on a show every bit as marvellous as Australia’s team on Sunday), England have won the Ashes. They did so in England in 2009, they trounced Australia at home in 2010-11 and had the better of a dour affair in England just a few months ago.
How the tables have turned. The mighty have fallen and the vanquished have returned, fitter, faster, more accurate and moustachioed. The reasons for the transformation are myriad and they are for another day. For now, Australia will indulge in laughter, beer and hyperbole and revel in a victory for the ages.
The day started with another brilliant performance from the old man of Australia’s order. Three days before Christmas, Chris Rogers’ tormentor, Graeme Swann, sprung one of the biggest surprises of a surprising Ashes series by announcing his retirement. Since, Rogers has been a man liberated. His strike rate (which wasn’t a problem before), not to mention run tally, have rocketed. On Sunday, he late cut like Ian Bell once could, drove with the nonchalance of an in-form Kevin Pietersen and, when necessary, defended like the Alastair Cook of old. His century was richly deserved.
For much of the morning, he was joined by George Bailey, who did little to defy his doubters but played a decent hand nonetheless. Eventually, he miscued Broad and found deep square leg. Brad Haddin played a shot a ball, then was bowled by Scott Borthwick, before Mitchell Johnson, who pipped the ‘keeper to be named man of the series, fell the same way to Ben Stokes. Rogers and Ryan Harris saw the hosts to lunch at 7-248.
What followed was three hours of pure, unadulterated chaos. Australia had cruised all morning, gifting England wickets of little relevance or consolation. They did the same after lunch, two more handed to Borthwick and the last, Peter Siddle’s, to the luckless and radar-less Rankin, his first in Test cricket. In 17 minutes, they had lost 3-28 and had a good swing. Now it was England’s turn. They needed 448 to win.
This effort started badly and didn’t get much better. For the second time in as many days, they were dismissed for well inside 200.
In the first innings, Cook left a ball that he should have played; in the second, he played at one he should have left alone. The outcome was the same, he was gone for seven and his team’s order, once so reliant on him, had lost it’s rudder.
Bell tried to hit himself out of his poor form, clearing a third man with an audacious upper cut, but ended by giving David Warner catching practice in the gully. That Bell, so outstanding in the northern summer, fell playing a late cut told the story of England’s demise and Australia’s brilliant planning. They have cut off all the scoring shots of England’s finest and left them searching.
Pietersen was next, a touch unlucky as Bailey took a brilliant, diving catch at short leg off Harris. The tourists were 3-57 and the three bastions of their recent success were in the changing room.
Michael Carberry and Gary Ballance saw England to tea with some fine resistance, but it mattered little. Before the break, Carberry’s Kookaburra had snapped and, immediately afterwards, his resistance was broken too as he took a wild slash at a fired up Johnson. This innings was the story, and probably the end for now, of Carberry’s Test career. He got another start but failed to go on.
Ballance was on his way three balls later, plumb to a Johnson thunderbolt that kept low. This was to be the last of the man-of-the-series’ 37 wickets. As has happened so often, though, Nathan Lyon complemented the left-armer brilliantly, claiming the scalps of Jonny Bairstow and Borthwick next over. The end was nigh.
Stokes and Broad, undoubtedly England’s two outstanding performers in a miserable series for the tourists, had some fun, but both were eventually bowled by Harris. That left just Anderson and Rankin, and it was appropriate that the richly deserved man-of-the-match Harris picked up his eighth of the game as Rankin edged to Clarke at slip.
And that, as they say, was that.
A fifth thrashing, a tenth England collapse and a third Australian whitewash. It had seemed possible since Adelaide, probable since Perth and inevitable since Melbourne. This should be savoured, though. England have been abject but you can only beat what stands before you. Australia haven’t just beaten them, they have blown them away. Have one on us, boys.