Four down, one to go. Another Ashes Test, another thumping victory for Australia. The only difference now is that England sit on the verge of their first Ashes whitewash in 86 years. Did what happened in 2005 really take place? It is hard to believe Ricky Ponting's brilliant side will show an ounce of complacency or compassion towards a distraught and defeated England in the final Test of this one-sided series, which starts in Sydney in four days' time.
Australia have been on a mission to rectify the apparent wrong of 2005 ever since Michael Vaughan was presented with a replica Ashes urn at the Oval almost 16 months ago. And if humiliating England 5-0 was not enough to sate these bloodthirsty Australians, they now have the added motivation of ensuring that the Test careers of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath reach a fitting climax.
Of the four defeats suffered by England on their ill-fated tour of Australia, this was the most disheartening. With the exception of two hours of cricket on the second morning, England offered very little and they deserved to be beaten by an innings and 99 runs. There were no exceptional performances, only muddled thinking and inadequacy. They lacked skill, thought and, most worrying of all, fight.
England looked and played like a beaten side from the moment Andrew Flintoff chose to bat on a morning tailor-made for seam bowling. Flintoff's decision did not settle the outcome of the Test, but being bowled out for 159 can have only increased the sense of doom within the side.
Where England go from here is hard to fathom. Flintoff, the captain, spoke about regrouping, pride and character, but the damage inflicted in the past five weeks has left scars that will take months rather than hours to heal.
How can England's bowlers suddenly start believing that they can bowl Australia out cheaply when they have failed to do so in six of their seven attempts? And as for the batsmen coming to terms with the genius of Warne and the persistence of McGrath and Stuart Clark - forget it. The only positive for the thousands of travelling England fans is that a repeat of this match would give them two extra days enjoying the sights, sounds and sun of Bondi Beach.
No matter the result in Sydney, there will be recriminations at the conclusion of the most expensive tour England have ever undertaken. Millions of pounds have been spent defending the Ashes yet the selection of the squad was whimsical and their preparations have been haphazard.
When a team are being mauled as England are, it is inevitable that divisions occur within the squad. The team's plight is always somebody else's fault and cliques quickly begin to form. What is disturbing is an apparent lack of togetherness. The presence of wives and girlfriends from the second week of the tour will not have helped the team unite, and it was wrong for the England and Wales Cricket Board to allow several of the players to dine elsewhere on Christmas Day. Surely a closely knit team that enjoys each other's company would want to spend an occasion like that together.
The only surprise about the events of yesterday was that Warne did not take the final wicket. Brett Lee, who bowled Matthew Hoggard with a superb yorker, grasped that honour.
Australia's bowling was once again magnificent. After adding 47 runs to their overnight score and taking a first-innings lead of 260, Lee, McGrath and Clark went after England's batsmen as though the series was still alive. McGrath bowled with discipline and venom. Warne had upstaged him in the first innings and it was now his turn to shine.
But it was Clark who made the initial breakthrough when he shaped a full ball through Alastair Cook's ambitious drive and knocked back his off-stump. Prior to his departure, Cook reached a quite significant personal landmark. When the 22-year-old pushed Lee through the offside before lunch, he became the second player to pass 1,000 runs in his first year of Test cricket. Mark Taylor is the only other batsman to have achieved the feat, when he scored 1,219 runs for Australia in 1989. In a bleak winter, Cook's promise is one of the few pleasant issues to report.
Ian Bell briefly satisfied McGrath's lust for wickets when the umpire Rudi Koertzen adjudged him leg before. It was probably the correct decision but Koertzen had a poor game, with England suffering most from his reluctance to give lbws.
Kevin Pietersen's position in the batting order has caused much debate and his move up to four suggested that England had bowed to public pressure. The decision to move Pietersen down to five at the start of the tour was based on the ideal that he would be protected from the new ball. It surprised many, as another example of England taking a defensive option.
According to England's former captain Nasser Hussain, who still has the ear of the coach, Duncan Fletcher, Pietersen asked to bat at five at the start of the tour. His wish was granted. Yet, mysteriously, Pietersen asked to move up to four the day after Hussain made this public and criticised the tactic because it had left England's best player batting with the tail on too many occasions. Could it be that Pietersen asked to move to four for image as well as team reasons? Whatever the motives, they failed to inspire England's dominant player. Pietersen's attitude looked far from ideal in this Test and his brief innings yesterday did little to end speculation that he is feeling sorry for himself. The loose, airy-fairy drive at Clark left a gap between bat and pad and he was bowled.
Clark has been outstanding in the series and he goes into the final Test as Australia's top wicket-taker with 21 victims. His whippy action lets him get alarming bounce and the relentless line he bowls is McGrath like. It would be stretching it to say he is the difference between the Australia of now and that of 2005 but he has made a huge difference to their attack.
Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood attempted to delay the inevitable and Ponting was eventually forced to turn to Warne, much to the pleasure of an 80,000 crowd. Yet it was a fired-up Lee who removed England's most stubborn batsmen. Collingwood drove to short extra cover and Strauss flirted once too often outside off-stump and was caught behind.
Flintoff was outwitted by Clark, as were Sajid Mahmood and Stephen Harmison by Warne. Chris Read fought like a man whose Test future is on the line and Lee's hostility proved too much for Monty Panesar and Hoggard.
These are not pleasant times for English cricket but no rash decisions should be made. It took them five years to develop into a good side and it should take more than five weeks of adversity against a great team before they are written off.
Historic humblings: England's worst Ashes defeats
Lost 5-0 (away) 1920-21
Lost 4-0 (home) 1948
Lost 4-0 (a) 1958-59
Lost 4-0 (h) 1989 (six-Test series)
Lost 3-0 (a) 1979-80
Lost 4-1 (a) 1897-98
Lost 4-1 (a) 1901-02
Lost 4-1 (a) 1907-08
Lost 4-1 (a) 1924-25
Lost 4-1 (a) 1950-51
Lost 4-1 (a) 1974 (six Tests)
Lost 4-1 (h) 1993 (six Tests)
LOST 4-1 (h) 2001
Lost 4-1 (a) 2002-03.
How they rated on third day of fourth Test
Andrew Strauss 4
Tried hard but failed again.
Alastair Cook 2
Huge promise but needs to sort out footwork.
Ian Bell 1
Has to become more consistent.
Kevin Pietersen 1
Body language needs to improve. It is not all about him.
Paul Collingwood 2
Never looked capable of saving the game.
Andrew Flintoff 3
It's all getting too much.
Chris Read 5
Took six catches, but is his batting good enough?
Sajid Mahmood 5
Bagged a pair but took four wickets.
Glenn McGrath 6
Upstaged by the other bowlers. But Sydney could provide fitting finale.
Brett Lee 8
Best display of the series.
Shane Warne 7
Not quite the perfect script - but still pretty good.
Stuart Clark 8
His bowling in the series continues to be unerring.
Ricky Ponting 9
Another excellent match for the often maligned captain.
BALL OF THE DAY
It has to go to Warne. The flipper that trapped Sajid Mahmood leg before was brilliantly thought out and executed.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Andrew Flintoff's slog/sweep at Shane Warne that flew to the deep square-leg boundary for four.
MOMENT OF THE DAY
Watching Warne leave the MCG for the final time was an unforgettable and emotional moment. Cricket lovers should enjoy him in Sydney.
DEBATE OF THE DAY
England's shortcomings are being exposed by an outstanding Australian team who have made them suffer self-doubt and a feeling of inevitability.
Scoreboard from Melbourne
England won toss, Third day
England - First Innings 159 (A J Strauss 50; S K Warne 5 -39)
Australia - First Innings (Overnight: 372 for 7)
A Symonds c Read b Harmison 156
330 mins, 220 balls, 15 fours, 1 six
+A C Gilchrist c Collingwood b Mahmood 1
10 mins, 8 balls
S K Warne not out 40
75 mins, 54 balls, 6 fours
S R Clark c Read b Mahmood 8
35 mins, 24 balls
G D McGrath c Bell b Mahmood 0
9 mins, 6 balls
Extras (b 0, lb 6, w 1, nb 9, pens 0) 16
Total (508 mins, 108.3 overs) 419
Fall: 1-44 (Langer), 2-44 (Lee), 3-62 (Ponting), 4-79 (Hussey), 5-84 (Clarke), 6-363 (Hayden), 7-365 (Gilchrist), 8-383 (Symonds), 9-417 (Clark), 10-419 (McGrath).
Bowling: Hoggard 21-6-82-1 (nb1) (15-6-47-1 4-0-25-0 2-0-10-0); Flintoff 22-1-77-3 (nb8) (12-1-44-3 5-0-16-0 5-0-17-0); Harmison 28-6-69-2 (10-3-26-1 6-1-17-0 2-0-7-0 10-2-19-1); Mahmood 21.3-1-100-4 (3-1-8-0 2-0-11-0 2-0-10-0 4-0-27-0 10.3-0-44-4); Panesar 12-1-52-0 (3-0-13-0 4-0-23-0 5-1-16-0); Collingwood 3-0-20-0; Pietersen 1-0-13-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Third day: 400: 483 mins, 103.2 overs. Innings closed: 11.30am
Hayden's 50: 173 mins, 101 balls, 6 fours. 100: 276 mins, 170 balls, 11 fours, 1 six. 150: 388 mins, 251 balls, 13 fours, 2 sixes. Symonds 50: 127 mins, 79 balls, 6 fours. 100: 220 mins, 151 balls, 9 fours, 1 six. 150: 287 mins, 205 balls, 15 fours, 1 six.
England - Second Innings
A J Strauss c Gilchrist b Lee 31
173 mins, 107 balls, 2 fours
A N Cook b Clark 20
64 mins, 46 balls, 1 four
I R Bell lbw b McGrath 2
20 mins, 11 balls
K P Pietersen b Clark 1
8 mins, 8 balls
P D Collingwood c Langer b Lee 16
52 mins, 38 balls
*A Flintoff lbw b Clark 25
60 mins, 45 balls, 2 fours
+C M W Read not out 26
127 mins, 77 balls, 1 four
S I Mahmood lbw b Warne 0
4 mins, 2 balls
S J Harmison lbw b Warne 4
44 mins, 26 balls
M S Panesar c Clarke b Lee 14
20 mins, 19 balls, 2 fours
M J Hoggard b Lee 5
21 mins, 20 balls
Extras (b 0, lb 12, w 1, nb 4, pens 0) 17
Total (301 mins, 65.5 overs) 161
Fall: 1-41 (Cook), 2-48 (Bell), 3-49 (Pietersen), 4-75 (Collingwood), 5-90 (Strauss), 6-108 (Flintoff), 7-109 (Mahmood), 8-127 (Harmison), 9-146 (Panesar), 10-161 (Hoggard).
Bowling: Lee 18.5-6-47-4 (nb3) (4-2-10-0 9-2-25-2 5.5-2-12-2); McGrath 12-2-26-1 (w1) (one spell); Clark 16-6-30-3 (nb1) (10-3-19-2 6-3-11-1); Warne 19-3-46-2 (one spell).
Progress: Lunch 28-0 (Strauss 12, Cook 15) 12 overs. 50: 98 mins, 21.2 overs. Tea: 90-4 (Strauss 31, Flintoff 11) 37 overs. 100: 190 mins, 41.1 overs. 150: 288 mins, 62.5 overs. Innings closed 5.44pm.
Australia won by an innings and 99 runs and lead five-match series 4-0.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and R E Koertzen (SA).
TV replay umpire: R L Parry
Match referee: R S Madugalle
Man of the match: S K Warne.Reuse content