The huge Australia Day crowd booed when Ranjan Madugalle, the match referee, informed them that England had won the toss and elected to bat here yesterday. England's woeful batting in the Commonwealth Bank Series had suggested that Andrew Flintoff's decision was likely to deprive the home supporters of the entertainment they were looking for on this the nation's day, yet few would have anticipated the inept and humiliating display put on by an opponent that is bereft of ideas and belief.
The match, the seventh in a 12-game qualifying stage, was scheduled to be a day-night event but Australia had passed England's paltry total of 110 before the floodlights were required. Ricky Ponting completed Australia's nine-wicket victory at 6.45pm local time when he pulled a Chris Tremlett delivery through square-leg for two. The timing of the result would have pleased bar owners in the vicinity of the Adelaide Oval but not those who were expecting to watch more than 59 overs of cricket for their entrance fee.
In a departure from his normal style, Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, said sorry for his team's incompetence. "We must apologise for our performance, there's no doubt about that," he said. "We are very, very disappointed. We have to apologise. We haven't batted well in two or three games now.
"We will have to have a look at the guys. The clatter of wickets has become too familiar. It's crucial to build partnerships, and we haven't done that. I don't think the side is as bad as it played here. But they are despondent."
Flintoff was equally upset. "People came to watch a good contest and we did not give them one," he said. "We also think about the people at home who stay up through the night or wake up in the morning hoping to hear of an England victory. We have let them all down.
"We do feel a little embarrassed by the performance. We have competed with Australia in the past and beaten them in games but at the moment we are nowhere. We began quite well to get to 70 for 2 but as has been the case over here, when we lose one wicket we then lose them in clusters."
England's dreadful form and an apparent lack of ideas of how to get out of the hole they are in is placing Fletcher under increasing pressure, but Flintoff defended his coach. "Duncan still has our full confidence," the England captain said. "He has been fantastic in the past few years and he has taken this side forward. Every lad in the dressing-room will have got something from Duncan, or improved through working with him. The coaching staff give us the tools. They help us and work with us but ultimately it is up to the lads. It is now up to us to repay him by putting some decent performances in."
In an inadequate and distressing winter it is becoming increasingly difficult to define England's worst display and this, needless to say, was right in among them. But where can England go from here? They have three further matches to play, starting with the game against New Zealand in Perth on Tuesday. There is no instant cure. The squad is depleted and lacking in belief. The niggles to Jon Lewis and James Anderson gave Liam Plunkett his first game of the tour and it would be unfair to criticise him for his bowling.
Ed Joyce's credentials are understandably being questioned, and Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood could do with a rest. Chris Read is the only player who deserves to play because Paul Nixon is out of his depth.
Despite the situation, England continue to try to talk a good game. At each press conference the desire to bat for 50 overs and post a competitive total has been expressed, yet the plans disappear into the Outback when each batsman leaves the dressing-room. Each of the top five batsmen were guilty of getting themselves out against an attack missing Glenn McGrath and Nathan Bracken.
Mal Loye's remit allows him to go out and get after the bowlers but, after striking Mitchell Johnson out of the ground with a trademark sweep, he chased a ball he should have left alone. Strauss played a couple of pleasant strokes before once again choosing the wrong option.
The setbacks did not perturb Ian Bell who pulled Johnson and Stuart Clark sweetly for four before chipping Andrew Symonds for six. Joyce struck Johnson for two boundaries and at the 15-over stage England, on 70-2, were on course for a competitive score.
But the complexion of the game changed in a mindless five-over spell in which England lost 3 for 9. Bell cut carelessly at Clark and was caught at backward point, Joyce naïvely attempted to pull Lee off a length and was caught at mid-on and Collingwood inexplicably chipped Symonds to mid off. The sight of an experienced player getting out in such a lame way left Symonds scratching his head in disbelief.
Flintoff and Jamie Dalrymple edged catches behind the wicket while Liam Plunkett and Chris Tremlett looked completely overawed by the occasion. England's rather pathetic plight was summed up by the vision of Nixon turning down singles in the 35th over with his side on 110 for 9. The futility of it all was highlighted when England's wicketkeeper chipped the next ball back to Brad Hogg.
It may have been bad, but we have suffered worse defeats
It may be hard to believe but yesterday's nine-wicket defeat to Australia was not the most embarrassing in England's very forgettable one-day history. Indeed, they have suffered three more damaging losses while Duncan Fletcher has been head coach.
The first came during Fletcher's first winter in charge when England were comprehensively beaten by Zimbabwe in Cape Town. Nasser Hussain's side were bowled out for 107 chasing a target of 212, with the erratic and wayward Henry Olonga taking 6 for 19.
It was during the corresponding tournament four years ago that England received possibly their fiercest drubbing. England amassed 117 in 41 overs against Australia in Sydney before watching Ricky Ponting's side knock the runs off without losing a wicket in just 12.2 overs. Adam Gilchrist, with 69, and Matthew Hayden, 45, completed England's misery.
The jungle of Dambulla, in the centre of Sri Lanka, was the venue for England's second lowest one-day score of 88. Paul Collingwood and Ashley Giles were the only two batsmen to reach double figures. Sanath Jayasuriya helped his side to pass England's score in only 13.5 overs as Sri Lanka coasted to a 10-wicket victory.
The fear for England is that the current side are only getting worse.
Scoreboard from Adelaide
England won toss
A J Strauss c Gilchrist b Johnson 17
M B Loye c Gilchrist b Lee 9
I R Bell c Clarke b Clark 35
E C Joyce c Johnson b Lee 11
P D Collingwood c Clark b Symonds 3
*A Flintoff c Ponting b Johnson 16
J W M Dalrymple c Gilchrist b Johnson 10
ÝP A Nixon c and b Hogg 4
L E Plunkett c Clarke b Johnson 0
C T Tremlett c White b Hogg 0
M S Panesar not out 0
Extras (w5) 5
Total (34.3 overs) 110
Fall: 1-14 2-47 3-72 4-79 5-81 6-103 7-106 8-106 9-107.
Bowling: Lee 8-2-8-2; Johnson 10-2-45-4; Clark 5-0-21-1; Symonds 5-0-20-1; Hogg 6.3-0-16-2.
ÝA C Gilchrist run out 23
M L Hayden not out 30
*R T Ponting not out 51
Extras (lb2 w4 nb1) 7
Total (for 1, 24.3 overs) 111
Did not bat: M E K Hussey, A Symonds, M J Clarke, C L White, G B Hogg, B Lee, S R Clark, M G Johnson.
Bowling: Plunkett 5-0-39-0; Tremlett 9.3-0-41-0; Flintoff 3-1-4-0; Panesar 5-0-19-0; Dalrymple 2-0-6-0.
Australia win by nine wickets
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) and I L Howell (SA).