If someone had been plotting the perfect timetable for crushing the nation's sporting morale they could hardly have engineered a more precise schedule. After the hammering suffered by the Lions, and with an England defeat in the first Test looming large, it needed only for Tim Henman's Wimbledon dream to end in tears for a miserable weekend to be complete. Of course, all three happened – and with grimly perfect timing, the demise of Tiger Tim fitted neatly into the lunch break at Edgbaston.
At least the cricketers were kind enough to put supporters out of their misery without prolonging the pain. For them the end came at 2.01pm when, with Nasser Hussain unable to complete an unfinished innings after X-rays had confirmed his fourth broken finger or thumb in two years as England captain, a third wicket for Shane Warne left England all out for 164, beaten by an innings and 118 runs by an Australian side threatening already to make the Ashes series appear a hideous mismatch.
Having resumed at 48 for 1, England were given hope by Mark Butcher and Marcus Trescothick, who took the total to 99 before a brute of a ball from Brett Lee saw Butcher caught behind. But Hussain retired hurt soon after that, having been hit by Jason Gillespie, and after Ian Ward was third out at 142, England collapsed dramatically, losing seven wickets for 22 runs with no one able to support the aggression of Trescothick, who hit a fine 76.
Hussain, who had only just recovered from the broken thumb inflicted by Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar in the first Test series of the summer, looks a likely absentee from the now-critical second Ashes rubber at Lord's on Thursday week, the blow from Gillespie fracturing the little finger of his left hand.
Afterwards, his spirits were clearly low as he reflected both on his personal misfortune and his team's defeat, which followed an Ashes build-up already battered by injuries to Graham Thorpe, Michael Vaughan and Mark Ramprakash.
"I could not grip with my top hand so I knew there was something wrong," he said. "I did not think it was broken but the X-ray showed otherwise."
"It is not displaced so it is not as bad as the thumb was. I will not know how long it is going to keep me out until I see the specialist but with a fracture it is normally a couple of weeks.
"After the groin and thigh injuries I suffered in Sri Lanka, then the thumb and now this, it is beginning to get me down. But I am the England captain and just have to be strong enough to pick myself up."
Just how England collectively pick themselves up will be Hussain's next concern. He insisted they would need to show a good deal more character if they are not to be swept aside by Steve Waugh's world champions, whose victory yesterday was their 17th in 19 Tests.
"You have to give credit to the Australians because they are a very good side," Hussain said. "But we have to learn from them and show more character.
"It was only a few months ago that people were saying what a fine side we are and I don't see how that should change. It is not the end of the world and we are still a bloody good side. But unless we learn pretty damn quickly we are going to find it hard."
Ominously, Waugh can hardly wait to let his side loose on England again. "We had a really good time out there are are looking forward to the next four matches," he said.Reuse content