Yesterday began with the news that Jack Russell is flying in as England's latest replacement, and yesterday ended with the realisation that England could fly in John Major, the Pope, or the Queen of Sheba for all the difference it is going to make to this Ashes series.
It did not take very long for Christmas Eve to seem like a memory belonging to another era rather than a couple of playing days, and the familiar cloak of depression has once again descended. For England's supporters, it must be a bit like being a handler at a snake farm. If you get over the first couple of bites, you end up immune to the poison.
The first session of play, during which England lost their last six first-innings wickets for 64 runs in 75 minutes, rather startled the Australian contingent in the press box, in that their overseas counterparts spent most of the time giggling. This wasnot so much a mickey take, as a form of mild hysteria, from people who think they have seen it all before, only to realise once again that there is evidently no limit to England's capacity for barmy cricket.
On the second day of this match, it was apparent to everyone that England needed to adopt a more aggressive approach to Shane Warne, and yesterday morning they certainly provided it.
However, as England's batting evaporated in a series of manically whirring blades, it put you in mind of a bizarre but memorable quote from the 1991 series here, when an Australian journalist described England's batting as having "all the never-say-die qualities of a kamikaze pilot".
It began with the very first ball of the day, when Graham Gooch, whose final overseas tour is beginning to look like a mission to find 1,001 crackpot ways to get out, plonked Craig McDermott's full toss straight back to the bowler. First up, the hopelessdelivery can be a highly effective one, as Gooch also demonstrated in the World Series game against Zimbawe, when he was caught and bowled pulling the leg spinner's first ball long hop.
Steven Rhodes was out for a duck in Warne's second over, with an eyes-closed prod to silly point, at which point England clearly decided that if they were going to get out to Warne anyway, they might as well die gloriously. Cue Charge of The Light Brigade. Result, death and carnage.
Alec Stewart bravely came in next, having had a pain-killing injection in his broken right index finger, and his first ball from Warne sailed back over the bowlers' head for four. Stewart continued to bat as though he had been told that the drug would wear off in about 10 minutes, and with Darren Gough swinging like a lumberjack, these two put on 34 in 34 balls.
However, when Warne pouched Stewart's skier it gave him his 150th wicket in his 21st Test, and when McDermott produced a beauty to have Gough caught behind, he slipped ahead of Richie Benaud, and behind only Dennis Lillee, as Australia's second-highest Test wicket-taker, with 249.
Phillip DeFreitas was hilariously stumped charging blindly down the pitch to Warne, but this was a comparatively sober dismissal next to the last one, when Philip Tufnell turned blind for a second leg bye and was run out by Mark Taylor's return to Ian Healy. It was as absurd a piece of cricket as even England have come up with in recent years.
Warne is clearly an exceptional bowler, and Alec Bedser, who rarely fails to produce a derisive snort at anything he has witnessed since the Second World War, and may well have invented the phrase "in my day...", rates Warne as the best bowler he has ever seen.
Warne's 6 for 64 confirmed his hypnotic hold over England's batsmen, and of the 30 wickets England have now lost in this series, only two of them have fallen to anyone other than Warne or McDermott: Tufnell's run out, and Gooch's dismissal by Tim May in Brisbane.
However, the most relevant statistic of all is this. In his seven and a half Ashes Tests, Warne has taken 51 wickets at a cost of 20 runs apiece. In precisely the same number, England's alleged match winner, Devon Malcolm, has taken 24 at 51 runs apiece.It is, like modern day Ashes cricket itself, not even a bloody contest.
Australia's lead of 67 was a priceless one given that England have to bat last on a pitch looking even more worn and ragged than they are. At one end, the cracks are wide enough for England to lose another player (well, apart from Mike Gatting perhaps) and the bounce has become more and more unpredictable.
This being the case, Australia's second-innings mission was to wear down England's attack, and it was sad to see, with the exception of the inexhaustible Gough, England plodding through the motions for the rest of the day. They could not even bowl their 69 overs within the allotted time, despite 30 of them being sent down by the spinners.
Tufnell bowled 27 of them, 23 without a break, but it was mostly negative - over the wicket and into the right-hander's rough. Devon Malcolm had no luck at all with the new ball, when Taylor twice mishooked him just clear of the field, and Michael Slaterinside edged past his leg stump. However, when Malcolm returned in the afternoon, it was mostly medium paced drivel.
Slater and David Boon had scored only 12 runs from nine overs following the afternoon drinks break, but with runs so precious, Malcolm came back and conceded 14 in his first over. Slater was finally stumped off Tufnell, and Gough picked up a smart returncatch to get rid of Mark Waugh, but Boon plodded on to 64 not out in that lugubrious way of his.
Gough made one marvellous running effort to catch him on the boundary when Boon got underneath a hook from DeFreitas, and England's groundfielding also held up pretty well. However, the one department in which England are comfortably superior to Australia is in their inability to make things happen. They are, sadly, trying to win a Grand Prix with a Morris Minor.
SCOREBOARD (Third day; England won toss)
Australia - First Innings 279 (S R Waugh 94no, M E Waugh 71; D Gough 4-60).
England - First Innings (Overnight: 148 for 4)
A J Stewart c and b Warne 16
(50 min, 26 balls, 3 fours)
G A Gooch c and b McDermott 15
(67 min, 52 balls, 1 four)
D Gough c Healy b McDermott 20
(65 min, 51 balls, 3 fours)
S J Rhodes c M E Waugh b Warne 0
(13 min, 11 balls)
P A J DeFreitas st Healy b Warne 14
(22 min, 19 balls, 2 fours)
D E Malcolm not out 11
(25 min, 13 balls, 2 fours)
P C R Tufnell run out (Taylor-Healy) 0
(6 min, 4 balls)
Extras (lb7 nb2) 9
Total (340 min, 83.4 overs) 212
Fall (cont): 5-148 (Gooch), 6-151 (Rhodes), 7-185 (Stewart), 8-189 (Gough), 9-207
Bowling: McDermott 24-6-72-3 (nb2) (10-4-24-1, 6-0-19-0, 8-2-29-2); Fleming 11-5-30-0 (6-4-9-0, 5-1-21-0); M E Waugh 3-1-11-0 (nb1) (one spell); Warne 27.4-8-64-6 (5-1-11-0, 3-0-7-0, 19.4-7-46-6); May 18-5-28-0 (nb1) (8-3-12-0, 10-2-16-0).
Progress: 150: 279 min, 70.4 overs. Stewart resumed at 151-6 after 71.3 overs. 200: 323 min, 80.3 overs. Innings closed 12.13pm.
Australia - Second innings *M A Taylor lbw b Gough 19
(81 min, 64 balls, 1 four)
M J Slater st Rhodes b Tufnell 44
(121 min, 74 balls, 5 fours)
D C Boon not out 64
(209 min, 163 balls, 5 fours)
M E Waugh c and b Gough 29
(126 min, 82 balls, 1 four)
M G Bevan not out 3
(41 min, 36 balls)
Extras (b1 lb5 nb5) 11
Total (for 3, 292 min, 69 overs) 170
Fall: 1-61 (Taylor), 2-81 (Slater), 3-157 (M Waugh).
To bat: S R Waugh, I A Healy, S K Warne, T B A May, C J McDermott, D W Fleming.
Bowling: Malcolm 12-2-44-0 (nb1) (9-2-28-0, 3-0-16-0); DeFreitas 13-2-41-0 (nb2) (4-0-18-0, 6-1-16-0, 3-1-7-0), Tufnell 27-6-41-1 (nb2) (23-5-37-1, 4-1-4-0); Gough 14-3-33-2 (7-2-21-1, 7-1-12-1); Hick 3-2-5-0 (2-1-5-0, 1-1-0-0).
Progress: Lunch: 31-0 (Taylor 8, Slater 21) 8 overs. 50: 68 min, 15.2 overs. 100: 146 min, 33 overs. Tea: 109-2 (Boon 24, M E Waugh 12) 37 overs. 150: 239 mins, 56.1 overs.
Boon 50: 158 min, 129 balls, 4 fours.
Umpires: S A Bucknor and S G Randell.
TV Replay Umpire: W P Sheahan.
Match Referee: J R Reid.Reuse content