It has been fun while it lasted, but the size of the task facing England this summer became apparent last night when they were thumped by Australia. Perhaps now, after a 57-run defeat, the handbags, the guides on how to play cricket and the general mickey-taking will disappear, and the Australians will be treated as a great sporting team should be.
On the other hand, should it be England holding the Ashes in September, let the jollity begin.
Ricky Ponting's side may have been spooked out on their visit to the North-east, but it was England who looked ashen-faced as they walked off the Riverside ground yesterday evening. And so they should after spending the majority of the day chasing shadows.
Ponting said: "This was a pretty important win for us. It rewarded us for the hard work we've put in in the last four days. Our bowling early on was excellent and it was great to have Brett Lee back. It is all about standards and we showed what we can do when we get it right. There is still room for improvement."
Marcus Trescothick, England's stand-in captain admitted that he had made a mistake at the toss. "We possibly should have batted first," Trescothick. "The pitch deteriorated quicker than I imagined it would. I hope this defeat doesn't do any long-term damage to our confidence. I thought we could chase 260, but Australia bowled really well. They got the ball in the right place and swung it around at the start of the innings."
It has taken Australia longer than anybody expected to get going but chasing down the world champions' total of 266 for 5 was always going to be difficult, especially when England's reply got off to the worse possible start. Brett Lee missed the tourists' initial two matches in the NatWest series with a shoulder injury, but he was right on the button here. The fast bowler was bowling 92mph in-swingers at England's left-handed openers and it surprised nobody in a sell-out crowd of 15,600 when he bowled Andrew Strauss.
In a four-over opening spell only one of the five runs Lee conceded came off the bat, the rest were wides and a no-ball. Glenn McGrath was his usual metronomic self, and it is difficult to believe this will be the last time this summer that Trescothick hangs his bat out to a good length ball which is angled across him and edges a catch to the keeper.
Paul Collingwood, fresh from a hundred and a six-wicket haul on Tuesday, received rapturous applause from his home crowd as he walked out to bat, but two balls later he returned to the pavilion in silence - bowled McGrath.
With England on 6 for 3, Vikram Solanki and Andrew Flintoff had no option but to consolidate.The pair looked more positive against Jason Gillespie and Shane Watson, but the introduction of Brad Hogg accounted for both. Solanki clipped the left arm leg-spinner to mid-wicket and Flintoff chipped weakly to long-on.
This double strike placed all England's hopes on the broad shoulders of Kevin Pietersen. England's new hero crashed a couple of extra cover drives to the boundary, but Andrew Symonds completed an excellent all-round display when the right-hander slogged him into the safe hands of Michael Hussey at deep midwicket. Darren Gough added a little respectability to England's total with a spirited 46. But the fact that he was England's top scorer indicates how comfortable Australia's victory was.
Australia's total was built on a fourth-wicket partnership of 143 between Symonds and Damien Martyn. Symonds, after serving a two-match ban for revelling into the early hours on the eve of the tourists' match against Bangladesh, highlighted his importance with an excellent 73.
And the burly Queenslander was given superb support by Martyn, who compiled a typically elegant 68. Australia's total would have been considerably higher but for some excellent bowling by Gough and Stephen Harmison.
Symonds and Martyn came together with Australia wobbling on 96 for 3. Adam Gilchrist became Chris Tremlett's first major scalp when he edged a catch through to Geraint Jones, and Ponting and Matthew Hayden were dismissed within five balls. At the half-way stage England would have been hoping to restrict the tourists to less than 250.
But through intelligent placement and the odd powerful shot the scoreboard was kept ticking over. Symonds, always a danger, was about to cut loose when Trescothick ran him out.
Hayden and Gilchrist gave Tremlett a rough introduction but Trescothick showed confidence in the 23 year-old and kept him bowling. And it proved to be a wise decision when his extra bounce accounted for Gilchrist.
England's fielding was disappointing.This was highlighted when neither Collingwood or Pietersen went for a chipped drive from Ponting, but the error failed to prove costlyas Ponting cut Harmison to third man and Ashley Giles took a diving catch. Five balls later Hayden was following him back to the pavilion, caught by Jones.