In mid-afternoon on the final day of England’s worst Ashes series came the most symbolic moment. Michael Carberry, the opening batsman, played a regulation defensive shot to a good length ball from Ryan Harris. And his bat simply snapped in two, the bottom half flapping forlornly against the top.
England were utterly broken. For 10 weeks their batsmen had shown no resistance and now their bats had given up the unequal struggle as well. That image will pervade the memory of this whole sorry campaign. Carberry smiled. There was not much else he could do save break down in tears and scream for mercy.
Soon after, 110 minutes later, at 4.23pm to be precise, England had lost the fifth Test by 281 runs on its third day and the series by 5-0. It was the third such margin in history and this one came from nowhere. Only three months ago at home, England had won 3-0. They felt like kings of the world then.
The fight had gone out of them on Sunday. There had not been much of it in the preceding weeks as potentially winning positions were surrendered and Australia’s bowlers ran rampant.
No one alive expected England to make the 448 runs required to win after Australia were bowled out in their second innings for 276, a total reached at well above four runs an over. They were in the business of plundering and England were not in the business of stopping them.
ASHES PODCAST: Stephen Brenkley and Tom Collomosse discuss the third day of the Fifth Test. Listen below…
Chris Rogers, whose place was in jeopardy before the fourth Test, scored his second hundred of the series and became the leading runscorer of the two series between the sides. It was a finely appointed innings of 119, full of measured strokes, containing 15 fours and spanning 169 balls.
There were three wickets for Scott Borthwick as the tail thrashed, which may have counted for almost nothing but were the best figures by an England leg spinner for 20 years. He did not quite look the part but you never know.
Reaching the target was a different proposition from taking the match into the fourth day. It proved well beyond them. Alastair Cook was the first wicket to fall, as he has been in seven of the 10 innings; he has been out six times before the 11th over has been complete.
If he is the right man to take England on from this – and he probably is – he has to take a long look at himself, at his team and at its simplest how he balances the demands of batting with those of captaincy. He has an enduring weakness around and just outside off stump but the majority of his dismissals in this series have been caused by careworn strokes attached to limited foot movement.
Cook’s average in the past 10 Tests is 25.7. If he were not captain, a player, even one with a record as illustrious as his, would be under serious scrutiny by the selectors. He followed a ball outside off stump from Mitchell Johnson and kept following it until he made sure he had edged it to Brad Haddin.
Before tea, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, the men who should have been his senior lieutenants in this rubber, had departed to lamentable errors of judgement, a cut to point and a prod to short leg. Without any performances of note from these three, a tough task has been made impossible.
The final seven wickets fell in 64 balls in the evening session, by now the calamity approaching risible proportions. Johnson, Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon were all among the wickets, probably finishing a career or two, some of them almost before they had started.
It is difficult to think that Jonny Bairstow will be called to the colours any time soon, or Boyd Rankin, or that Borthwick will be asked to start the summer. There was a flurry of resistance at the end from Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad, the only two players remotely to have done themselves justice.
Stokes is a real find who may be the fulcrum of this side for 10 years. He bowls too short and his batting sometimes lacks rigour, which may tell against him on the bad days. But he has a fearlessness about his play which means that he is always standing up to be counted.
Johnson, the man of the series, should perhaps have applied the coup de grâce but it was fitting enough it was done through a combination of Harris and Michael Clarke. Rankin, one of the three debutants, essayed a drive which went high to slip where Clarke took it above his head.
Clarke was immediately engulfed by his colleagues and they joined in the ubiquitous huddle. Australia had picked the same XI for the entire series, something they had never done before. By contrast, England used 18 players, Steve Finn the only member of the original party who did not have a game.
Had anybody suggested on that first day at Brisbane when Australia were 132 for 6 and staring down the barrel that Scott Borthwick of Sunderland would be bowling for England before the series was out they would have been laughed out of the ground.
Borthwick himself, happily playing club cricket in Sydney, would doubtless have been aghast. But that was where England had plummeted in a little over six weeks of cricket. At least the SCG, unlike the Oval in August, was spared a drenching. It was England who had been urinated all over.
Five steps: To disaster how it all went wrong
1 Alastair Cook’s stiff back
It seemed a piffling thing at the time when the captain disembarked at Perth and found himself unable to play in the first game, a long flight having taken its toll. But it meant the team for the opening game changed, which meant the intended Test team changed, and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
2 The Johnson factor
As soon as he was unleashed at Brisbane it was clear that England had to respond quickly. Trouble was that Mitchell Johnson had become a bit of a joke, a fast bowler who could perform in patches but swiftly fell apart. Instead he was a constant and rapid menace.
3 Jonathan Trott’s illness
Poor Trott was worked over by Johnson in the first Test and was clearly suffering as, it transpired, he had been for some time. He went home and the balance of the team, nurtured carefully over four years, was terminally destroyed.
4 Graeme Swann’s retirement
Swann was targeted mercilessly by Australia’s right-handed batsmen and eventually decided enough was enough, announcing his retirement after the third Test. He deserves better than being remembered for being hit for 22 off his final Test over.
5 Kevin Pietersen’s disengagement
Despite all his protests and his determination to show otherwise, Pietersen never quite convinced that he meant business on the grand scale. It is possible to wonder if he will ever again be as good as he was.
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