With their last man Devon Malcolm at the crease, England needed to survive to survive nine balls, to ensure play was carried over until today. A generous bookmaker might have given odds of 8-1 against. As it was, Malcolm flailed at his second ball, sending a comfortable catch to Mark Waugh and the Aussie team into raptures.
The loss, their third of the series, means that the Ashes, that holiest of Cricket's holy grails, will remain with Australia. The urn containing them may reside at Lord's, but with the Old Enemy having held them for the last five series, it is simply their spiritual home until England can find players to match the likes of Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
Although the losing margin was a comprehensive 264 runs, it is difficult to find any glaring faults with England's performance here, for their cricket - until late in their second innings, When the fight had left them - has been spirited and bold.
In some ways, however, the truth, certainly as far as regaining the Ashes is concerned, is even more depressing. Faced by a team, whose early stuttering steps are now a distant memory, England have quite simply been outplayed by a superior cricketing force; no lesser judge than Ian Chappell going as far to declare it the fifth great era of Australian cricket.
To have any hope of victory, England needed to start off as they had done on Friday when Alec's Stewart's blitzkreig took the opposition by surprise. It didn't happen and once Atherton and Stewart had departed either side of tea, England's fate was sealed, albeit with just seven balls play remaining.
The captain, with rumours of an eleventh hour offer to resign the captaincy, has had a rum old time of it lately. If there is any truth to the story then the combination of three factors; his own poor batting form against the short ball (he was again out to a snorter from McGrath); a wretchedly sore back; and England's abject performance in the field on the fourth day at Headingley, would have been to blame.
Asked about the matter afterwards, he deadbatted the question from David Gower, in his usual brusque style saying that: "We'll have to wait and see."
Having given everything over the last three days, his team were simply spent when it came to facing up to the opposition's huge total of 451. In match situation like that, Australia are well nigh invincible, and only Graham Thorpe, his confidence rejuvenated by the best batting surface of the series, offered any resistance. Fittingly, he remained unbeaten on 82.
Clattering anything slightly off line, Thorpe scored at a breathtaking rate, chalking up his fifty in just 41 balls. Unless you include Jason Gillespie's, whose bowling yesterday conceded fifty from 39 balls, it was the fastest of the match.
But if the gangling fast bowler proved expensive, his three victims were vital to his side's search for victory. Beginning with a the fortuitous dismissal of John Crawley, again caught down the leg-side, his removal of Nasser Hussain for 21, and Adam Hollioake for 2, removed the remaining mainstays of English resistance.
With Hollioake junior following soon after,padding up to Warne, and Robert Croft obliging the same bowler with a village blacksmith's six and out, Mark Taylor was able to claim the extra half hour. It was a cushion that England did not survive, as first Caddick, who recorded a pair, then Headley and Malcolm, failed to keep McGrath and Warne at bay.
Seven Hours earlier, Australia had begun the day 281 ahead and with the clear intent of extending their lead as quickly as possible, an intent quickly betrayed when Steve Waugh walloped the first ball of the morning from Andy Caddick for four.
England's priority on the other hand, was to remove them as promptly as they had done on Friday morning, when the ball had swung about in the heat haze. But if the swing was not as forthcoming, Caddick's riposte with the very next ball, just as impressive and Waugh simply had no answer as he fended the throat ball to Adam Hollioake at second slip.
As so often with this England side though, the early breakthrough proved illusory, a flickering beacon snuffed out by a combination of Australia's batting depth and an England attack whose generosity with four balls verges on the careless. When the next wicket fell some 105 runs later, the horrible truth about the Ashes was writ large, and England only hope of saving face, was indeed to save the match.
The need to defend, by contrast, is something Australia rarely ever contemplate, as Ian Healy's typically onomatopeic innings demonstrated. From his first ball - incidentally was a fresh air swish - Healy assaulted the bowling, his Biff, Bang, Pow approach the scourge of purists and carefully set fields alike. His fifty came from just 49 balls.
Ironically the man in England's side who probably posesses Healy's gritty self-confidence is the man who took his wicket. Adam Hollioake, whose impressive debut has been handled with the assurance of a veteran. Opening his run account with a composed 45 on Saturday, yesterday, aided by two smart catches by his Surrey Team mate Alec Stewart, he took his first wickets.
With little brother similarly launched on his Test career, England can afford to leave Trent Bridge without the usual "Where do we go from here despondency?" Though both failed in England's second innings there was enough achieved to suggest that from little acorns do big 'Oakes grow.
There was a brace of wickets for Croft too, who until he had Warne caught at extra cover by Thorpe, had sent down 82 overs without taking a wicket. It is a dilatory strike rate for a frontline bowler to have, and one when taken with his apparent lack technical robustness against the short ball, has put Croft's place in jeopardy.
In fact the Welshman bowled well, and his 2-74 could easily have been 4-50, had Crawley not spilt a relatively simple catch and Umpire Cyril Mitchley not turned down a plumb lbw decision when Warne padded up to a ball homing in on middle and leg.
Being dealt a cruel hand in sport is an occupational hazard that tends to afflict those most in need of a break. It is partially the reason why England have been on the losing side in this series more than they should have been. But only partially and Atherton and his men all know they have been well beaten by the better side.
Trent Bridge scoreboard
Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA - First Innings 427 (M A Taylor 76, S R Waugh 75, M T G Elliott 69, M E Waugh 68, G S Blewett 50).
ENGLAND -First Innings 313 (A J Stewart 87, G P Thorpe 53; G D McGrath 4-71; S K Warne 4-86)
AUSTRALIA - Second innings
(Overnight: 167 for 4)
S R Waugh c A Hollioake b Caddick 14
(60 min, 25 balls, 2 fours)
R T Ponting c Stewart b A J Hollioake 45
(168 min, 131 balls, 4 fours)
I A Healy c Stewart b A J Hollioake 63
(104 min, 78 balls, 9 fours)
S K Warne c Thorpe b Croft 20
(48 min, 36 balls, 1 six)
P R Reiffel c B C Hollioake b Croft 22
(56 min, 37 balls, 3 fours)
J N Gillespie c Thorpe b Headley 4
(19 min, 19 balls)
G D McGrath not out 1
(16 min, 16 balls)
Extras (b1, lb11, nb6) 18
Total (419 min, 98.5 overs) 336
Fall (cont): 5-171 (S Waugh), 6-276 (Healy), 7-292 (Ponting), 8-314 (Warne), 9-326 (Gillespie).
Bowling: Malcolm 16-4-52-0 (6-2-20-0, 5-2-12-0, 5-0-20-0); Headley 19- 3-56-2 (nb1) (5-1-20-0, 8-0-21-1, 3-0-14-0, 3-2-1-1); Croft 26.5-6-74- 2 (8-3-20-0, 1-0-2-0, 17.5-3-52-2); Caddick 20-2-85-3 (nb3) (8-1-22-1, 6-1-21-1, 6-0-42-1); B C Hollioake 5-1-26-1, A J Hollioake 12-2-31-2 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: 200: 254 min, 57.4 overs. 250: 303 min, 68.1 overs. Lunch: 278-6 (Ponting 41, Warne 0) 81 overs. 300: 375 min, 88.4 overs. Innings closed: 2.52pm.
Healy's 50: 74 min, 49 balls, 8 fours.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
*M A Atherton c Healy b McGrath 8
(36 mins, 32 balls, 1 four)
A J Stewart c S R Waugh b Reiffel 16
(38 mins, 22 balls, 3 fours)
J P Crawley c Healy b Gillespie 33
(68 mins, 41 balls, 4 fours)
N Hussain b Gillespie 21
(51 mins, 37 balls, 2 fours)
G P Thorpe not out 82
(127 mins, 93 balls, 13 fours, 1 five)
A J Hollioake lbw b Gillespie 2
(17 mins, 6 balls)
B C Hollioake lbw b Warne 2
(31 mins, 25 balls)
R D B Croft c McGrath b Warne 6
(8 mins, 6 balls, 1 six)
A R Caddick lbw b Warne 0
(15 mins, 10 balls)
D W Headley c Healy b McGrath 4
(35 mins, 26 balls, 1 four)
D E Malcolm c M E Waugh b McGrath 0
(2 mins, 2 balls)
Extras (b6, lb2, nb4) 12
Total (218 min, 48.5 overs) 186
Fall: 1-25 (Atherton), 2-25 (Stewart), 3-78 (Hussain), 4-99 (Crawley), 5-121 (A J Hollioake), 6-144 (B C Hollioake) 7-150 (R D B Croft), 8-166 (A R Caddick), 9-186 (D W Headley).
Bowling: McGrath 13.5-4-36-3 (nb1) (8-3-28-1 5.5-1-8-2); Reiffel 11-3- 34-1 (nb2) (8-2-22-1 3-1-12-0); Gillespie 8-0-65-3 (nb3); Warne 16-4-43- 3 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: Tea: 25-1 (Stewart 16) 8.4 overs. 50: 68 mins, 16 overs. 100: 107 mins, 23 overs. 150: in 164 mins, 35.5 overs. Innings closed: 7.0pm.
Thorpe's 50: 52 mins, 41 balls, 9 fours.
AUSTRALIA WON BY 264 RUNS
Man of the match: I A Healy.
Umpires: C J Mitchley and D R Shepherd.Reuse content