England's cricketers are tired. They are tired because they are losing 4-0 in a one-day series with the serious prospect of three more defeats to come, they are tired because Brett Lee has just demonstrated what fast bowling of the highest quality is all about, they are tired because they suspect they are ill-prepared for an international tournament barely a week away.
Most of all, however, they are tired because they are on an incessant treadmill of international cricket from which there appears to be no escape. Since gathering last November for the tour of India, England have simply kept playing cricket. By being constantly on the move they have lost momentum.
They won the Ashes and found there was nothing left to give in the NatWest Series. Allied to the plain truth that they are simply pretty hopeless at one-day cricket their limitations have been brutally exposed in the last few days.
The concern must be that refuelling will not have taken place by the time the Champions Trophy starts next week. The team might have been amended, infused with supposed one-day specialists but the main players are still those who combine all forms of the game. Something has had to give.
England are trying their darndest not to make excuses and they are aware of manifold shortcomings in their batting which they again displayed here on Saturday when Australia took their unassailable lead. In four one-day matches their best score has been 256 in the first match and since then, they have failed to reach 230.
"I am not going to lie, it has been a long summer," said the wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior, who is one of those desperately short of runs. "It has been a hard summer, an intense summer but it has also been a fantastic summer. It would be stupid to say I'm not tired and that I am as fresh as a daisy because I'm not.
"But that is the schedule, everyone gets involved it and that's it. That's what it is, that's international cricket and you get on with it. You do your pre-hab every morning, you run around and get your legs loose and have 10 minutes of being a bit stiff and you get into the day. You get into the middle and you look around and there are 30,000 people, you're playing at Lord's and the sun is shining and actually you're not that tired anymore. I think that is the mentality you have to have."
But the mentality you ought to have and how it manifests itself in the middle are not synonymous. England's programme does not look particularly onerous when compared with the number of days in the week. Since 14 November last year when they played a one-day international in Rajkot, they have played 17 one-day internationals, 14 Test matches embracing the Ashes, and seven Twenty20 games including the World Twenty20, a potential 94 days of cricket.
But there has also been the disruption of the Mumbai terrorist attacks which meant leaving India and then returning, the tumult over the captaincy and the constant training, playing and travelling. It is a good life but it is is not family life and it does not make for perpetual peak performance.
Prior was not complaining after Saturday's defeat as he spoke outside the Long Room at Lord's. He still wants to play in the three remaining matches in the NatWest Series and in the Champions Trophy.
"I want to be a player who changes things around and plays a match-winning innings for England if not a couple," he said. "You can't do that sat on the sidelines."
The problem for players is that when England are at home they are in reality away. Prior has missed only one of England's 38 matches in all formats since the start of the India tour, when he left the West Indies tour to see his newly born son and had opprobrium heaped on him in some quarters. He has decided to withdraw from Sussex's campaign to win the Twenty20 Champions League, which is being played in India immediately after the Champions Trophy.
"I gave it a few weeks' thought," he said. "But you look at the winter we had last winter and look at the breaks. I reckon since getting back on 4 April from the West Indies I've had less than 20 days in my own bed. It's quite gruelling, I don't think people see that. OK we're playing at home, we're playing in England but I am always in Leeds or Manchester or Birmingham or London. In October that will be my three weeks to spend some time at home or go away with my family, have a bit of down time."
England lost the match at Lord's on Saturday when they were denied the opportunity of making a serviceable total by a blistering spell of bowling from Lee, who is of course remarkably fresh after missing the entire Ashes series. He bowled at extreme pace with late movement and destroyed England. All five of his wickets were earned with deliveries above 90mph.
Australia won much as they liked. The fifth match in the series is tomorrow. England's selection options are limited because the obviously weary Jimmy Anderson and Paul Collingwood are again rested. They might profitably give Graham Onions his one-day international debut on the grounds that he is not tired and is perhaps the best bowler in England at present.
One-day scoreboard: Lord's
Fourth one-day international (Saturday)
Australia beat England by seven wickets
*A J Strauss c Bracken b Hauritz ......... 63
J L Denly c White b Lee......... 11
R S Bopara lbw b Hauritz ......... 26
†M J Prior b Lee ......... 29
O A Shah c Ferguson b Watson ......... 39
E J G Morgan st Paine b Bracken ......... 13
L J Wright b Lee ......... 12
S C J Broad b Lee ......... 2
A U Rashid b Lee ......... 4
T T Bresnan not out ......... 11
R J Sidebottom b Johnson ......... 2
Extras (lb2 w2 nb4 pens 0) ......... 8
Total (46.3 overs) ......... 220
Fall: 1-29, 2-96, 3-111, 4-146, 5-174, 6-200, 7-202, 8-206, 9-212.
Bowling: Lee 9-1-49-5; Bracken 8-0-40-1;
Johnson 8.3-0-42-1; Watson 8-0-46-1; Hauritz 10-0-23-2; Clarke 3-0-18-0.
S R Watson lbw b Bresnan ......... 26
†T D Paine c Prior b A U Rashid ......... 51
*R T Ponting c Bopara b Bresnan ......... 48
M J Clarke not out ......... 62
C J Ferguson not out ......... 23
Extras (b1 lb1 w7 nb2 pens 0) ......... 11
Total (3 wkts, 43.4 overs) ......... 221
Fall: 1-51, 2-108, 3-168.
Did not bat: M E K Hussey, C L White, M G Johnson, N M Hauritz, B Lee, N W Bracken.
Bowling: Broad 9-0-43-0; Sidebottom 7.4-0-41-0; Bresnan 8-1-41-2; A U Rashid 10-0-56-1; Shah 3-0-12-0; L J Wright 6-0-26-0.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and N J Llong.
Australia lead seven-match series 4-0.Reuse content