Ashes 2013-14: Captain Alastair Cook's first-baller sums up England tour as Australia tighten grip on the urn

The Ashes appear to be lost with England requiring a world record 504 runs to win the Third Test from a position of 251 for 5

Waca, Perth

At high noon the tour reached its most desperate hour. Alastair Cook, once among England’s most successful captains, took guard at the Members’ End.

It had been another futile morning. Australia had plundered 134 runs from 17 overs, 28 of them in the 17th alone. Cook might have had that still whirring uneasily through his mind. The fissures in the pitch before him were enough to make anybody crack up. He had 10 hours and 30 minutes to bat. At the Prindiville Stand End, Ryan Harris began his run. The crowd roared, the ball was fast and full and Cook pushed forward.

Perhaps he narrowly misjudged the line but it hardly mattered. The ball held its own through the air, then hinted at moving away off the pitch to clip the top of off stump. It was an impeccable ball, a classic, a perfect storm. England, needing 504 to win and keep the Ashes alive, were 0 for 1. Cook was out to his first ball for the first time in Tests.

 

The Ashes Podcast: Stephen Brenkley and Tom Collomosse review the fourth day of the Third Test in Perth. Listen below...

 

The hollowness of that moment for England was matched by Australian ecstasy. The captain and primary target had been removed. The match was not yet done but whatever happened next, whoever took the wickets and scored the runs, England could go no lower.

There were risibly bad moments on the fourth day before (the catch two fielders left for each other during Australia’s onslaught) and after (Kevin Pietersen’s steepling drive to long on when England were supposed to be fighting to save their skin) but that was when enough seemed to be enough, when God was finally determining that there was to be no fourth successive Ashes victory, when the wheel had turned full circle for Cook.

He made 766 runs in the Ashes here three years ago at an average of 128; he now has 154 in this at 26. That is around his average for all his other Tests against Australia save for those in his series mirabilis. No one would have wished that ball on England’s captain yesterday but no one was surprised that he received it.

Australia were denied a fourth-day win by a combination of Ian Bell, who did not survive until stumps, and Ben Stokes, who did. Stokes stroked the ball cleanly and nervelessly. He is one of those infernal positives sought in defeated dressing rooms.

This rubber might very well finish 5-0 but in that instant the entire ill-starred venture was encapsulated. England were amid their worst day’s cricket since the day before. Which was saying something.

Those who were firm in their beliefs that the tourists would come to Australia and claim the great prize for the fourth successive time have been made to look like frivolous dolts. But even those who counselled caution, who knew the perils of playing in Australia, who recalled what happened in 1958 when another England side full of high achievers who had won three Ashes series fell to their doom, could not have predicted this merciless onslaught.

England have been so outplayed in each of the first three Tests that they have been left more than 500 to win in their second innings in all of them. That has never happened before. Comparisons, though odious, are inevitable with other calamitous campaigns. But this seems less excusable than the disastrous tour, led by Andrew Flintoff, seven years ago. 

That was shambolic, with a man who should not have been captain and had no working relationship with an accomplished coach who was losing the plot. But Australia were a side containing four or five of the most formidable men to have played the game, hell-bent on vengeance for their defeat in the epic ’05 series in England.

Cook and Andy Flower have an adult relationship based on liking and mutual respect.  But on the third and fourth days of this match England have produced cricket breathtaking in its meekness, vulnerability and stupidity. Australia may be driven but, man for man, they are not in the same league as the men who humiliated England in 2006-07.

The Waca, whose $500m redevelopment plans were shelved yesterday, putting its future in peril, was full, hot and excited. Few among the crowd would have anticipated the violently entertaining cricket which followed. For an hour Australia humiliated England. Humiliation in sport is never easy on the eye, for it negates the notion of the contest. Shane Watson was 29 not out from 66 balls overnight and after receiving another 10 balls had reached fifty.

Thirty balls after that he had made his fourth Test ton. He was out only after Bell dropped a high, miscued drive and Tim Bresnan threw down the stumps at the end to which he started running too late. Watson struck Graeme Swann, who had bowled with admirable control the previous day, for 14 off his first over and 22 off the next. Worse, much worse, was to ensue.

Before this match, George Bailey was one of several batsmen in Australia’s top six whose place was under threat (another was Watson).  A top-edged pull fell between Jimmy Anderson and Bell. They left it for each other, the Australian dressing room collapsed into laughter.

Bailey completed the mayhem. If anybody had suggested a month ago that Bailey would strike Anderson for three sixes, two fours and a two in a Test over they would have been declared barking. As the final straight six whistled over Anderson’s head – and with it a goodly portion of this fine bowler’s self-respect – Michael Clarke declared at 369 for 6.

Cook went, Michael Carberry followed after another stay of brief promise, Joe Root optimistically referred his jabbed catch behind and then came Pietersen. He was finding batting easy – he hit Nathan Lyon for one six with long on back but it was surely tempting providence to do it again. He did it again. It is increasingly difficult to believe that the hunger still burns within Pietersen’s soul.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor