The Ashes slipped painfully out of England's sight yesterday. They had, of course, been plucked from their grasp as early as the very first ball of this series a mere 13 playing days ago. It was pitiable to witness. Not that the tourists performed limply this time, but Australia were ruthless and therefore unstoppable.
In pursuit of vengeance for what happened last year in England, they took their total to 527 for 5 declared, 408 of those runs being scored in 76 overs on the third day of the Third Test, leaving England 557 to win.
So horrifyingly single-minded were Australia - only those who want to take over the world in James Bond films are as devoted to a cause as this - that Adam Gilchrist's century in 57 balls had the air of the routine. Only Viv Richards (56 balls) has reached three figures more quickly, 20 years ago in Antigua.
Gilchrist was one of three Australians to make centuries on the day. Mike Hussey, acquiring his first in an Ashes Test, and Michael Clarke, his second in successive matches, were the others, and Matthew Hayden was only eight runs short.
England, weary and careworn in the searing heat, lost a wicket to the fourth ball of their reply. Andrew Strauss was given out leg before to a ball that was probably going over the top of the stumps. Unlucky perhaps, but 'twas ever thus for teams being beaten.
One year and 95 days had elapsed since England had won the great prize amid an outpouring of national rejoicing. It is safe to assume that Australia, their hurt matched only by their outrage, had spent most of that time plotting and scheming a terrible retribution. How effective they have been.
Pretending to be mildly surprised by England's performances and always utterly respectful of the achievement, they came out for the start of this series with an aggression that made a wounded tiger appear to have all the force of Tiddles the pussy. They have not always been infallible, but to borrow a phrase that they use frequently of themselves, they have been utterly focused as a group.
Having exposed England's vulnerability in that First Test in Brisbane, Australia had one chance in the Second Test in Adelaide and took it in dramatic fashion. Yesterday, they arrived at the Waca to plunder.
Nor are they finished yet. If they ultimately win here the Ashes will be back with them again, and that clearly matters so much to them, is such a source of honour and pride, that regaining them again may be harder still for England. Last time, do not forget, it took 16 years and 142 days.
In the middle of the dog-day afternoon, Australia took the lead to 333. It was significant only because it meant England would then need more than they had ever made to win a Test match. Oh, happy days. Not very long after that, Australia's prolonged assault left England requiring a total higher than anybody, anywhere had made to win a Test (the 418 made by West Indies against Australia in Antigua only three years ago). Shortly after that, it was entering the realms of fantasy.
If you were to ask Gilchrist the most favourable circumstances he could imagine to play an innings, he might say it would be something like going in at 363 for 5 on a flat pitch which happened to be at his home stadium with a licence to attack at will against a tired bowling attack wilting under a hot sun. All those specifications were met. Suit you, sir.
England stuck manfully to their task, which is more than could honestly have been reported about their endeavours on the first four days at Brisbane and the last one at Adelaide. Nor did they have the rub of the green, though possibly that is because they were still washing the emerald out of their skins after the last Ashes contest in 2005.
Hussey, scoring his first hundred against England but less authoritative than in his previous innings in the series, was dropped on 48, culpably by the wicketkeeper Geraint Jones running back to square leg, and on 75 by Strauss going to his weaker right side at slip, and might have been given out caught off pad and bat when he was 15. Clarke could have been stumped off Monty Panesar from a ball which bounced venomously.
Before Gilchrist had scored he squirted one towards gully in the air with Andrew Flintoff coming round the wicket. But it was narrowly wide of an outstretched Paul Collingwood. What worked in 2005 was not working this time around.
England wilted as inevitably as a flower deprived of a water. There were intermittent successes. Ricky Ponting went early for a mere 75, nicking a peach of a ball from Stephen Harmison. It was Harmison's most potent spell of the series. It might have been two matches too late but it begged the question of whether he ought to have had two or three matches under his belt before the series began. But then so many questions are going begging now, and there may not be easy answers.
Hayden was well caught at slip by Collingwood at the second attempt off Panesar, Hussey edged a straight one to Jones and Andrew Symonds was undone by a beauty from the left-arm spinner.
Gilchrist reminded us that the learning curve in Test cricket is steep with a cascade of shots against the Sikh of Tweak in one over. There was not a rank bad ball in it, but Gilchrist took 24 from it with a two, a four and three sixes. His first 50 took 40 balls, his second 17. The great Richards made his hundred at St John's, which is a postage stamp compared to the Waca's foolscap envelope.
Those thunderbolts enabled Australia to declare and put England in. It was not part of their original plan, but even when the strategy was going wrong it was right.
If England could bat for slightly more than two days they would surely have acquired enough runs to win, but only saying it quickly made it sound anything other than a ridiculous prospect. The Ashes had gone. They had gone in Brisbane. Perth was merely sealing the deal probably made at The Oval on 12 September 2005.
Tour of Failure: Mistakes that undermined Ashes defence
Not solely to blame, but because he has never been able to bowl more than five consecutive overs he has not been able to lead by example, his main draw-card. His batting is out of sorts.
England simply did not have enough cricket. The Champions Trophy in India had to be used as an Ashes training camp. One first-class match in Australia outside the Tests was plain daft.
Understandable perhaps given the talent of the rest, but England said they would never repeat the mistakes of the tour four years ago, when so many players were injured. If they weren't, they were not match-fit.
It is possible that Steve Bull, the estimable team psychologist, will not put this series on his CV. The players were so nervous at Brisbane that the series slipped away.
Poor Ashley Giles may never play again after leaving the tour on Friday night because of his wife's illness, though he has great character. The same goes for Geraint Jones, whose batting has been substandard. Everything had to be right in every department. The hand was weakened.
You make your own luck perhaps. But Australia have had it all, as confirmed by umpiring decisions yesterday. England needed good fortune by the bucketload.
THIRD TEST SCOREBOARD
Australia won toss
Australia - First Innings
244 (M E K Hussey 74*; M S Panesar 5-92, S J Harmison 4-48)
England - First Innings
215 (K P Pietersen 70)
Australia - Second Innings
M L Hayden c Collingwood b Panesar& 92
(Smart slip catch off steer at second attempt; 252 min, 159 balls, 12 fours)
*R T Ponting c Jones b Harmison& 75
(Nicked extremely fast lifting ball shaping away; 164 min, 128 balls, 10 fours)
M E H Hussey c Jones b Panesar& 103
(Played down wrong line at straight one; 224 min, 156 balls, 12 fours)
M J Clarke not out& 135
(251 min, 164 balls, 17 fours, 1 six)
A Symonds c Collingwood b Panesar& 2
(Edged delightful turning, lifting delivery to slip; 9 min, 6 balls)
ÝA C Gilchrist not out& 102
(103 min, 59 balls, 12 fours, 4 sixes)
Extras (lb 15, w2, nb1) & 18
Total (for 5 dec, 504 min, 112 overs) & 527
Fall (contd): 2-144 (Ponting), 3-206 (Hayden), 4-357 (Hussey), 5-365 (Symonds).
Did not bat: S K Warne, B Lee, S R Clark, G D McGrath.
Bowling: Hoggard 20-4-85-1 (7-2-21-1, 7-2-20-0, 4-0-19-0, 2-0-25-0), Flintoff 19-2-76-0 (3-1-13-0, 5-0-10-0, 3-1-13-0, 2-0-9-0, 6-0-31-0), Harmison 24-3-116-1 (6-1-24-0, 7-1-19-1, 5-1-15-0, 4-0-34-0, 2-0-24-0), Panesar 34-3-145-3 (10-1-29-0, 3-0-6-0, 13-1-57-1, 6-1-23-2, 2-0-30-0), Mahmood 10-0-59-0 (2-0-12-0, 4-0-21-0, 4-0-26-0), Pietersen 5-1-31-0 (3-1-20-0, 2-0-11-0).
Progress: Third day: 150 in 184 min, 43.3 overs. 200 in 249 min, 58 overs. Lunch 220-3 (Hussey 43, Clarke 3) 63 overs. 250 in 299 min, 70.4 overs. New ball: 80 overs at 295-3. 300 in 349 min, 81.2 overs. 350 in 383 min, 88 overs. Tea 357-4 (Clarke 73) 89.3 overs. 400 in 430 min, 99.1 overs. 450 in 466 min, 106.3 overs. 500 in 485 min, 109.1 overs. Declaration at 6.24pm.
Hayden 50: 123 min, 77 balls, 8 fours. Ponting 50: 112 min, 85 balls, 7 fours. Hussey 50: 120 min, 93 balls, 6 fours. 100: 214 min, 148 balls, 12 fours. Clarke 50: 111 min, 76 balls, 5 fours, 1 six. 100: 174 min, 130 balls, 13 fours, 1 six. Gilchrist 50: 64 min, 40 balls, 8 fours. 100: 99 min, 57 balls, 12 fours, 4 sixes.
England - Second Innings
A J Strauss lbw b Lee& 0
(Padded up to ball swinging back into him; 3 min, 4 balls)
A N Cook not out& 7
(28 min, 22 balls, 1 four)
I R Bell not out& 9
(24 min, 12 balls, 1 four, 1 five)
Extras (lb1, nb2) & 3
Total (for 1, 29 min, 6 overs) & 19
Fall: 1-0 (Strauss).
To bat: K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, *A Flintoff, ÝG O Jones, S I Mahmood, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Lee 3-1-5-1, McGrath 3-0-13-0 (one spell each).
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak), R E Koertzen (SA). TV umpire: S J Davis (Aus). Referee: J J Crowe (NZ).Reuse content