For a day or two at least England are in the territory occupied by improbable sporting comebacks. No team has ever won after being behind 3-0 in a one-day series of seven matches and the last to be in such a tricky position responded by losing the next two and trailing 5-0.
That was England all of 10 months ago when they were comprehensively outplayed by India. They avoided the game's first 7-0 outcome but probably only because the last two matches were cancelled after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
That England should be in this position again – and at home – is a reflection of their present parlous state. There are several reasons: malaise after the Ashes, the absence of key players, confused strategy, poor execution, wretched form and running into an Australian side with plenty to prove.
England have been extremely poor so far in this NatWest Series and are in danger of making the autumn septet seem even more interminable than it did when looking at it on the calendar. They concede their shortcomings but so far have done precious little to address them.
The team's endeavours at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday night were as insipid as anything they have purveyed so far. Australia bowled tightly with clear policies and unsung bowlers performed with rigour. Nathan Bracken, their left-arm seamer, is a smart cookie who knows how to take advantage of slow-burning pitches and slow-thinking batsmen.
England's shotmaking has been bizarre at times in each match and they have failed hopelessly to set the tone. Form or lack of it has not helped and Ravi Bopara is only one of those out of it.
The general consensus is that Owais Shah, for one, is playing for his career at No 4 but poor Bopara is caught between playing his natural game or a game he thinks will suit the team better. It has left him pitiably indecisive.
"I think we can still pull this out of the fire," Bopara said yesterday. "England always respond well when we are down. We have done it in the past and I'm sure we can do it again. We haven't been good enough with our batting but it doesn't make us bad players."
This late part of the season has been a sharp lesson in big-time cricket for Bopara after he found himself incapable of putting a foot wrong against West Indies. In 11 innings against Australia, combining Test, one-day and Twenty20, he has scored 192 runs. Compare that to the 135 he made in one fell swoop against them in September four years ago.
"I'm only 24, I have a lot of years behind me and, hopefully, I will have learnt a lot from this experience," Bopara said. "I've learnt that the Aussie bowlers were different to anything I have faced in the past. They're a lot more well-drilled and a lot more professional about how they bowl and a lot more accurate. In the past I have played bowlers who will let you off with a few bad balls but they were on the money most of the time against me."
That is an Everestine learning curve to ascend for Bopara and everybody else. The team must fear the worst. But in 1942, Toronto trailed Detroit 3-0 in the Stanley Cup ice hockey finals and won 4-3. More recently, more famously in 2004 the Boston Red Sox were losing 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the seven-match American League Championship Series and recovered to win that and the World Series. England to beat Australia 4-3 and take the subsequent Champions Trophy, anybody?