If one final straw was needed to dissuade Michael Atherton from retaining the England captaincy, then this was it and, tough though he undoubtedly is, he cannot surely have the stomach to captain a side whose collapses are now more frequent than a faulty deckchair.
Capitulation on this scale has become something of a speciality for Atherton's men this series, and this was their sixth score of 200 or less of the summer. It has also become too symptomatic to be just shrugged off as one of those things.
To lose eight wickets for 83 runs in 26 overs, as England did yesterday afternoon, is carelessness bordering on the negligent. The tourists may be a superior force, but England played with the reckless abandon of an end-of-term party.
So much for the empty rhetoric about having plenty to play for. If David Lloyd gave his side a verbal carpeting after Trent Bridge, then the real firework display should have been in full flow last night. England's coach must now be close to reaching the end of his tether too.
If there was a mitigating circumstance after Atherton had won his first toss of the summer, it was that McGrath bowled exceptionally well. He is the complete fast bowler, not West Indian express, but quick enough and with enough control and movement to create the kind of pressure that the majority of England's batsmen seem quite unable to cope with. To date he has taken 36 wickets in the series and now needs another six in England's second innings to equal Terry Alderman's Ashes record of 42 wickets set in 1981.
Bowling exclusively from the Vauxhall End, the skinny New South Welshman removed Mark Butcher in the fifth over of the day, the Surrey opener dragging a wide long-hop on to the base of leg-stump.
Two overs later, Atherton himself followed, the victim of a delivery that cut back sharply off the pitch to take the inside edge and provide Ian Healy with his 25th catch of the series.
The captaincy issue cannot be helping matters - but while Atherton's batting average as captain is far higher than his average before he came to take charge (45.35 as compared to 41.15), it is different against Australia, where it remains just above 35 in each category.
At 26.38, Alec Stewart's average is significantly lower, and Australia remain the one side he has never scored a Test century against. If he was to break that particular duck, however, nowhere would have been better than his beloved Oval, the place whose pitches are entirely responsible for his languid strokeplay. Once again he set off like a train, taking boundaries as easily as the local pickpockets might lift a wallet from a weary commuter at the tube station down the road.
With Nasser Hussain using his bat more as a fly swat than something with which to make contact with a cricket ball, England were perhaps fortunate to add the 73 runs they did for the third wicket. But, just as a big score looked possible for both Stewart and England, the Surrey man was adjudged lbw to the first ball he faced after lunch. Having been stuck on 35 for over 20 minutes, Hussain eventually lost the battle of wills, as he tamely drove McGrath to mid-on where Matthew Elliott took a smart diving catch.
It was the dismissal that proved to be the catalyst for collapse, as Graham Thorpe, defying all known geometry, was bowled round his legs. It was a soft dismissal but it paled beside the one that followed an over later, when Adam Hollioake calmly watched a Shane Warne leg-break crash unchallenged into his middle and off stumps.
It was a humiliating way to go, though Hollioake can consider himself unlucky, for he picked the delivery correctly. Unfortunately for him, the ball did not grip the surface and turn, as previous deliveries had, and Warne's reputation for making batsmen look like fools was further enhanced.
With a career to resurrect, Mark Ramprakash would have been full of nerves and expectation. After squirting his first ball for two to square leg, the conflicting emotions appeared to cancel each other out. Or at least they did until McGrath got one to cut back and bounce and find its way via glove, then hip, into the hands of Greg Blewett at short leg.
It was a desperately unfortunate way to go and, as England's tail wagged merrily for once, Ramprakash will feel that his Test career may be blighted by means beyond his control.
When Australia batted, the contest looked as if it was being played on another level as eight boundaries were taken from England's first eight overs. Then Phil Tufnell, bowling his first Test match deliveries on home soil for three years, removed both left-handers.
On the day that Oasis released their eagerly awaited record "Be Here Now", Tufnell's wickets did not provide the succour England need to finish this series on a positive note. In fact England's batsmen, most of them Oasis fans, would rather have been anywhere else...
County cricket, page 26
SCOREBOARD FROM THE OVAL
England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings
M A Butcher b McGrath 5
22 min, 24 balls
*M A Atherton c Healy b McGrath 8
32 min, 17 balls
A J Stewart lbw b McGrath 36
105 min, 73 balls, 4 fours
N Hussain c Elliott b McGrath 35
138 min, 114 balls, 4 fours
G P Thorpe b McGrath 27
50 min, 35 balls, 3 fours
M R Ramprakash c Blewett b McGrath 4
19 min, 8 balls
A J Hollioake b Warne 0
6 min, 6 balls
A R Caddick not out 20
23 min, 19 balls, 1 four, 1 six
P C R Tufnell c Blewett b Warne 1
20 min, 20 balls
D E Malcolm lbw b Kasprowicz 0
3 min, 1 ball
Extras (b2,lb6,nb10) 18
Total (240 min, 56.4 overs) 180
Fall: 1-18 (Butcher), 2-24 (Atherton), 3-97 (Stewart), 4-128 (Hussain), 5-131 (Thorpe), 6-132 (Hollioake), 7-132 (Ramprakash), 8-158 (Martin), 9-175 (Tufnell), 10-180 (Malcolm).
Bowling: McGrath 21-4-76-7 (nb4) (9-3-26-2, 12-1-50-5); Kasprowicz 11.4- 2-56-1 (nb8) (4-0-25-0, 6-2-18-0, 1.4-0-13-1); Warne 17-8-32-2 (nb1) (8- 4-15-0, 9-4-17-2), Young 7-3-8-0 (one spell).
Progress: 50: 59 min, 13.2 overs. Lunch: 97-2 (Stewart 36, Hussain 31) 29 overs. 100: 133 min, 31.1 overs. 150: 211 min, 49.4 overs. Innings closed: 3.37pm (tea).
AUSTRALIA - First Innings
M T G Elliott b Tufnell 12
52 min, 33 balls, 1 four
*M A Taylor c Hollioake b Tufnell 38
60 min, 42 balls, 7 fours
G S Blewett not out 10
50 min, 42 balls
M E Waugh not out 13
42 min, 37 balls, 1 four
Extras (lb1, w1, nb2) 4
Total (for 2, 103 min, 25.1 overs) 77
Fall: 1-49 (Elliott), 2-54 (Taylor).
To bat: S R Waugh, R T Ponting, I A Healy, S Young, S K Warne, M S Kasprowicz, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Malcolm 4-1-20-0 (one spell); Martin 8-2-26-0 (nb2, w1) (5-1- 18-0, 3-1-8-0); Caddick 6-1-24-0; Tufnell 7.1-5-6-2 (nb1) (one spell each).
Progress: 50: 56 min, 12.2 overs. Rain stopped play 5.31-5.52pm, 74-2 (Blewett 10, M Waugh 10) 22.2 overs. RSP 6.02pm (close).
Umpires: L H Barker and P Willey. TV replay umpire: K E Palmer. Match referee: C W Smith.Reuse content