England's dreams of retaining the Ashes are in tatters following yesterday's sensational six-wicket defeat to Australia in the second Test. The loss gave Australia a 2-0 lead in the five-match series and with Andrew Flintoff limping through the final day it is difficult to see England coming back. History is against them; no England side has ever drawn a series in Australia from this position, let alone won one.
For an Australian this victory was as huge as England's at Edgbaston 15 months ago and it was clear to see how much it meant to Ricky Ponting's team when Michael Hussey scored the winning run with 19 balls of the game remaining. The majority of players in this great Australian side have achieved more than most in the history of the game, yet here they were jumping and hugging each other like little children. Heavens knows what the scenes were like in the England changing room as Shane Warne and company soaked up the applause of ecstatic home fans. It will take them some time to get over this defeat.
And, inevitably, it was Warne who transformed what was widely expected to be a dull day into a memorable one. It is hard to find superlatives to describe how great a cricketer this man is. His legend grows at a faster rate than his tally of Test wickets - now 694 - and he has nothing more to prove, but here he was getting dirty and pushing his sore and tired body to the limit to win a game of cricket for his side. This guy just loves competing and that is why he is a champion.
And it was this drive, this unquenchable desire to be the main man, that turned the Test Australia's way. England will not admit to choking: but they did. They entered the final day hoping rather than believing that they could live with Warne but Bell, Pietersen and Flintoff, to name but three, could not handle the heat.
Warne bowled unchanged from the Cathedral End of this beautiful ground for over four hours, sending down 27 mesmeric overs. He conceded only 29 runs and took four wickets, but it could have easily been six or seven such was the quality of his bowling. While he toiled away England's batsmen must have felt they were in the grip of a huge boa constrictor that was slowly squeezing the life out of them.
Warne was brilliant but England will be devastated by the events that unfolded. Having scored 551 for 6 in their first innings they would have felt they were safe, as they would have for most of the third and fourth days, too. But once Australia advanced to within 38 runs of England's first-innings score they were always going to be under pressure. Even so, losing nine wickets for the addition of 60 runs in 43 overs is unacceptable.
In the past year England have capitulated on four occasions when placed in a similar situation, and the memories of Multan and Lahore in Pakistan, Chandigarh in India, and Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge, would have been present as they made their way to the ground. In Pakistan, England faced Shoaib Akhtar at the height of his powers and, at Trent Bridge, Muttiah Muralitharan was at his best, but England have got to find players who can handle these situations if they are to become the best side in the world.
Australia wobbled twice as they chased 168 in 36 overs, reviving hopes of an Edgbaston-style victory. Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden fell in the opening six overs of the hosts' reply, and Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn perished in consecutive overs when 50 runs were required. But Hussey kept his cool superbly, collecting singles with surgical precision and swatting the occasional ball to the boundary. The left-hander is a magnificent batsman.
In an attempt to find a winning formula Flintoff rotated his bowlers but nobody came close to repeating the stranglehold Warne had earlier in the day. The defensive fields Flintoff set did not help the bowlers' cause - it was too easy for the Aussies to collect singles. Ponting summed up England's approach after the match when he suggested that they were looking for Australia to make mistakes rather than trying to win the game.
England began the final day on 59 for 1 and with a lead of 97, and for the first 45 minutes it appeared as though the match was heading towards a boring draw. Warne and Stuart Clark were bowling well but Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell looked comfortable.
But the entire nature of the Test changed when Strauss was adjudged to have been caught at short-leg. The opener was vexed when the umpire, Steve Bucknor, raised his finger, and he had every right to be - the ball had not made contact with his bat.
Collapses of this stature usually involve a needless run-out and this was the case here. Bell sold Paul Collingwood something of a dummy when he dabbed Warne to backward point and with both batsmen at the wicketkeeper's end Michael Clarke swooped and threw the ball to the bowler. Bell was beaten by Warne's underarm lob and England were 70 for 3.
In England's first innings Kevin Pietersen comfortably won his battle with Warne but, like all great competitors, the master bit back. Warne could not hide his delight after bowling Pietersen behind his legs with a big ripper of a leg-break. Clenching his fist in celebration Warne stood in the middle of the pitch like a matador who had just slayed a bull. If the panic button had not already been pressed in the visitors' changing room it was now.
Flintoff joined Collingwood but he did not appear to know quite how to play. England's captain blocked a few, dabbed at a couple and then had a horrible waft at Brett Lee and was caught behind. England were now in disarray on 77 for 5.
Jones gave the visiting supporters in another big crowd - the match attendance of 136,761 was the highest in 48 years - brief hope before becoming Lee's second victim. Ashley Giles, who was picked ahead of Monty Panesar for his batting, edged Warne to slip and Matthew Hoggard groped at a googly like a teenager and was bowled.
Collingwood, meanwhile, was fighting as if his life depended on it. After scoring a double century in the first innings and batting for more than three hours yesterday, he did not deserve to be on the losing side, but the prospect of it became inevitable when a revitalised Glenn McGrath claimed England's final two wickets.
England travelled to Perth this morning and the calls for Michael Vaughan to return will gather momentum. Vaughan's presence in Australia has done nothing but undermine what Flintoff and his side have been trying to achieve. In this series England have played far too many cricketers who have been short of match practice, so why play another?
Adelaide Oval scoreboard
England won toss
England - Second Innings
A J Strauss c Hussey b Warne 34
125min, 79 balls, 3 fours
A N Cook c Gilchrist b Clark 9
48min, 35 balls, 1 four
I R Bell run out (Clarke-Warne) 26
85min, 73 balls, 2 fours
P D Collingwood not out 22
198min, 119 balls, 2 fours
K P Pietersen b Warne 2
8min, 5 balls
*A Flintoff c Gilchrist b Lee 2
25 mins, 24 balls
ÝG O Jones c Hayden b Lee 10
42min, 24 balls, 1 four
A F Giles c Hayden b Warne 0
14min, 8 balls
M J Hoggard b Warne 4
26min, 24 balls
S J Harmison lbw b McGrath 8
26min, 21 balls
J M Anderson lbw b McGrath 1
41min, 28 balls
Extras (b3, lb5, w1, nb2, pens0) 11
Total (324 mins, 73 overs) 129
Fall: 1-31 (Cook), 2-69 (Strauss), 3-70 (Bell), 4-73 (Pietersen), 5-77 (Flintoff), 6-94 (Jones), 7-97 (Giles), 8-105 (Hoggard), 9-119 (Harmison), 10-129 (Anderson).
Bowling: Lee 18-3-35-2 (nb2) (5-1-13-0 13-2-22-2); McGrath 10-6-15-2 (w1) (4-1-12-0 6-5-3-2); Warne 32-12-49-4; Clark 13-4-22-1 (one spell each).
Progress: Fourth day: 50 in 67 mins, 15.2 overs. Close 59-1 (Strauss 31, Bell 18) 19 overs. Fifth day: Lunch 89-5 (Collingwood 5, Jones 5) 47 overs. 100 in 241 min, 54.2 overs. Innings closed 3.42pm.
Australia - Second Innings
J L Langer c Bell b Hoggard 7
12min, 8 balls, 1 four
M L Hayden c Collingwood b Flintoff 18
31min, 17 balls, 2 fours
*R T Ponting c Strauss b Giles 49
95min, 65 balls, 5 fours
M E K Hussey not out 61
129min, 66 balls, 5 fours
D R Martyn c Strauss b Flintoff 5
4min, 4 balls, 1 four
M J Clarke not out 21
47min, 39 balls, 1 seven
Extras (b2, lb2, w1, nb2, pens0) 7
Total (for 4, 161 mins, 32.5 overs) 168
Fall: 1-14 (Langer), 2-33 (Hayden), 3-116 (Ponting), 4-121 (Martyn).
Did not bat: ÝA C Gilchrist, S K Warne, B Lee, S R Clark, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Hoggard 4-0-29-1 (3-0-19-1 1-0-10-0); Flintoff 9-0-44-2 (nb2) (5-0-23-1 4-0-21-1); Giles 10-0-46-1 (3-0-14-0 2-0-10-0 5-0-22-1); Harmison 4-0-15-0 (2-0-7-0 2-0-8-0); Anderson 3.5-0-23-0 (2-0-14-0 1.5-0-9-0), Pietersen 2-0-7-0 (one spell).
Progress: Fifth day: 50: 52 min, 9.5 overs. 100: 90 min, 17.4 overs. Final hour signalled at 114-2 (Ponting 48, Hussey 35) 21 overs. 150: 143 min, 28.5 overs. Australia won at 6.43pm with 19 balls to spare. Hussey 50: 111 min, 54 balls, 4 fours.
Australia won by 6 wickets.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and R E Koertzen (SA). TV replay umpire: S J Davis. Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
Fifth Day: How They Rated
Andrew Strauss 5
Unlucky to be given but had to go.
Ian Bell 4
Ridiculous run-out highlighted English anxiety and started rout.
Paul Collingwood 8
Did not deserve to be on the losing side.
Kevin Pietersen 1
Poor shot and slack throw that conceded seven runs. Bad day.
Andrew Flintoff 5
Awful shot but whole-hearted bowling. Will he bowl again here?
Geraint Jones 3
Picked for his batting but failed again.
Ashley Giles 2
Come on down, Monty Panesar.
Matthew Hoggard 3
Tried hard - defeat wasn't his fault.
Stephen Harmison 2
A lot more required. More rhythm but no potency with ball.
James Anderson 2
Wasted 40 minutes with bat, bowling again ineffective.
Justin Langer 2
Not his Test.
Matthew Hayden 3
His time is nearly up.
Ricky Ponting 8
Captained well, took Australia to brink of a memorable victory.
Damien Martyn 1
If Shane Watson is fit this could have been his last Test.
Mike Hussey 8
Guided Australia home in magnificent manner.
Michael Clarke 6
Gave Hussey excellent support.
Shane Warne 10
What can you do when he performs like this?
Stuart Clark 6
Helped set the tone for the rest of the day.
Brett Lee 8
Took two important wickets and bowled with hostility.
Glenn McGrath 7
There may be life in the old dog yet.