So much for whitewash theory, or at least as it pertains to England. It could be that this is just a nasty one-off, an unrepresentative disintegration born of rust, a lack of exposure to hostile enemy fire so early in the series. After all England climbed out of a deeper hole at the Gabba three years ago, recovering a 221 first innings deficit with a mountainous 500-plus in the second for the loss of only one wicket.
But much has happened since. England have been fried by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, stuffed at home by South Africa. And if you peel away the euphoria of the 3-0 Ashes win of last summer, you begin to see how Australia might have left with a share of the urn or even as victors.
The first Test went to England by just 14 runs, the third would have been Australia’s were it not for a Manc monsoon. Australia looked well set to make the 298 target to win the fourth Test but for a late collapse and had much the better of the drawn final encounter at The Oval. In four of the five Tests Australia led after the first innings, and this is a poor batting side. Only in the second Test at Lord’s were they decisively beaten.
The Australian batting line up is all over the place, lacking an established opening partnership, no fixed abode for Shane Watson and a skipper in Michael Clarke who is peerless at five but frequently exposed at four. Just as well they teased Brad Haddin back to the gloves. It is this weakness with the willow as much as anything that led some to predict another drubbing for Australia, utterly ignoring the quality of the Aussie attack.
If Mitchell Johnson bowls straight and Ryan Harris stays fit the Australian strike weapons are quicker and more dangerous than our own. Couple this with the failure of the pre-match hyperbole to acknowledge England’s own batting ills.
England have yet to satisfactorily replace Andrew Strauss at the top of the order. Michael Carberry was one of the plusses of that first innings debacle. He is not the problem. Alastair Cook is and his lack of runs is costing England, who have not posted one 400 in the last dozen innings.
Jonathan Trott managed only two 50s in ten Ashes innings in England, averaged fewer than 30 and looked anything but a Test class operator when poking tentatively at Johnson to gift a catch down the leg side.
Matt Prior did brilliantly with his reverse clatter of the stumps to run out Haddin yet he is not in the team for his prowess with the gloves but for his ability to stiffen the middle order with his robust batting. That is where he makes a difference, or rather used to. His first baller would have disappointed a school boy rabbit. In nine knocks in the summer he averaged 19 with a highest score of 47. Nowhere near good enough.
Without Graeme Bell you could argue that the Ashes would have returned to Australia. He failed here and so did England. Of course Johnson’s left arm could lower and the spray gun return. The shoulder, back, hip, knee, ankle or Achilles of Ryan Harris might fail at any time. The bounce might desert Nathan Lyon. All fair ‘ifs’, perhaps, but irrespective of that, the evidence tells us that England are going to have to reverse a batting trend that goes deeper than the Gabba collapse.