By the time England offered resistance yesterday it was much too late. The match had long gone and the idea that the Ashes could come home was barely flickering.
Victory for Australia duly arrived early in the afternoon and the margin of an innings and 80 runs said it all. Or, at least, it said a great deal – but, in the event, not quite everything.
For more than two days of the fourth npower Test, England were abject. Their cricket was as purposeless as it can have been for 10 years when they slipped to bottom in the world rankings. With bat and then ball, from one to 11 they were stunningly incompetent.
The team led by Andrew Strauss as captain and guided by Andy Flower as coach had come to Leeds with the Ashes to play for and had spurned the opportunity to do so. Confronted with opponents as determined as boy scouts and as well-drilled as a troupe of dancing girls, they simply panicked. It was grotesque to watch partly because it revealed that the suspicions held by many about the fitness for purpose of the English cricketer under pressure might have some merit.
Where England were restless, Australia were perfectly composed. Needing to win to ensure that they could still take the series as well as the Ashes, their play was spirited and seamless. Until yesterday, that is.
When the teams arrived yesterday to perform before a full house that can have expected no more than two hours' cricket and must have feared much less, Australia led by 261 runs and England had five wickets intact. Those figures became 257 and four when James Anderson steered the third ball of the morning into Ricky Ponting's hands at second slip. Ponting has two assets in the position: he has the hands which scoop like a JCB digger and move with the speed of a Formula One car. Six overs later, Matt Prior was wonderfully caught by Brad Haddin, diving low to his right in front of first slip. England, it appeared, were leaving the game as they arrived in it, with a whimper that could paradoxically be heard round the world. Then came Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann.
If they provided no more than a straw to clutch at, it was necessary to do so with both hands and caress it lovingly to the chest all the way from here to The Oval a week on Thursday. In 80 balls of exciting batting in a hopeless cause they shared an eighth-wicket partnership of 108.
It was never going to win the match, there was never about to be a repeat of Headingley 1981 when England won after following on – the two occurrences in English cricket which should be subject to censorship are Headingley 1981 and the Ashes 2005 – but it was lovely to see. Not only did it delay proceedings and make the crowd's attendance almost worthwhile but it also irritated Australia.
On a scale of one to 10, the overall grading of the home side did not budge from zero but it might just have reminded them that Australia are neither infallible nor invulnerable. Instead of departing the field to a chorus of boos, the merry hitting of both men elated the audience who felt for the first time that England had turned up.
In the understandable rush to inter English cricket that will take place in the next few days it should not be forgotten that the score in the series stands at 1-1. It was Australia, despite having all the leading individuals in the series at both batting and bowling, who had to come back and ensure that they did not lose again.
Come back they did, of course and how, but it is probable, nay it is certain that at the start of this rubber and at the start of every Ashes rubber for the preceding 20 years, England would have taken a level scoreline going into the final match. The manner of its occurrence was perhaps not what they had in mind but it lent some sense to their appeals for a period of calm reflection before the team for the match at The Oval is selected.
They will be lucky, of course. The next few days will be filled with calls for change and names will be picked out of the air as though each of them was born to be the saviour of the English game.
The list of likely replacements before the selectors have conceded that there should be any replacements includes Mark Ramprakash, Marcus Trescothick and Robert Key. Jonathan Trott, having been summoned to the squad for the Leeds match, without convincing many observers beyond the selection room, would seem to be an early favourite. Nor did it seem completely fanciful – though it was – that Kevin Pietersen should be rushed back from Achilles surgery.
Calm reflection or not, the fact is that the middle-order engine room, numbers three, four and five, made 16 runs in the match and were dismissed six times. There have been no centuries from them in the whole series and only one from England in all, Strauss's splendid 161 at Lord's which begins to seem like a cricketing lifetime ago.
In those circumstances it would be difficult to resist change and in some ways it would be selectorial madness to do so. Ravi Bopara might have been the victim of a dubious lbw decision on Saturday night at the most crucial time of his career, but he had long since been brutally exposed in the blue riband batting position. Similarly, Ian Bell, who had been recalled for Pietersen, has not looked like the answer to England's prayers.
There is a sound case for letting both go but then so much would be expected of the men coming in. Were it to be Ramprakash, for instance, there is no doubt that a month before his 40th birthday, he would be attended not by hope but by crushing expectation. That would be barely lessened in the other cases. That, however, is the nature of sport.
England and Australia are locked at 1-1. England need heroes, they need new heroes and they need them now.
Turning points: How the action unfolded
*11.00am: Time for a miracle? "There's only been one miracle in the last 2,000 years, and that was Jesus Christ," declares Geoffrey Boycott on TMS as the teams take to the field.
*11.04am: Puss in boots Jimmy Anderson does little to combat Justin Langer's assertion that 'he's a bit of pussy' by edging Ben Hilfenhaus to slip.
*11.29apm: Prior warning England's last remaining frontline batsman departs as Alderman-clone Hilfenhaus finds Matt Prior's edge and the sprawling Brad Haddin does the rest.
*12.14pm: Stand and fight
Stuart Broad gets his own back on Stuart Clark for Saturday's mauling by clobbering four fours in an over.
*12.20pm: Broad bat A half-century for Broad, and from 42 balls only as England give a decent turnout at Headingley some belated cheer.
*12.27pm: Swansong Graeme Swann follows Borad's lead and smites Clark all over Yorkshire: 49 off three overs and Australia look rattled...
*12.39pm: ...but not for long. Broad's enterprising knock is over as he gets a pull at Peter Siddle all wrong.
*2.03pm: All square Australia level the series as the revitalised Mitchell Johnson removes Graham Onions.
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 102 (P Siddle 5-21).
AUSTRALIA First Innings
Overnight: 196-4 (Ponting 78, Watson 51)
M J Clarke lbw b Onions......... 93
138 balls 13 fours
M J North c Anderson b Broad......... 110
206 balls 13 fours 1 six
†B J Haddin c Bell b Harmison......... 14
23 balls 1 fours
M G Johnson c Bopara b Broad......... 27
53 balls 5 fours
P M Siddle b Broad......... 0
S R Clark b Broad......... 32
22 balls 1 four 3 sixes
B W Hilfenhaus not out......... 0
Extras (b 9, lb 14, w 4, nb 3)......... 30
Total (104.1 overs)......... 445
Fall: 1-14 (Katich), 2-133 (Watson), 3-140 (Ponting), 4-151 (Hussey), 5-303 (Clarke), 6-323 (Haddin), 7-393 (Johnson), 8-394 (Siddle), 9-440 (Clark), 10-445 (North).
Bowling: Anderson 18-3-89-0 (w1) (3-0-20-0, 5-0-24-0, 10-3-45-0), Harmison 23-4-98-2 (w1) (6-3-17-1, 2-0-22-0, 8-0-39-0, 7-1-20-1), Onions 22-5-80-2 (w1nb2) (5-1-23-0, 6-1-22-1, 4-1-7-1, 6-2-23-0), Broad 25.1-6-91-6 (w1nb1) (11-4-29-2, 7-1-25-0, 7.1-1-37-4), Swann 16-4-64-0 (11-4-28-0, 5-0-36-0).
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A J Strauss lbw b Hilfenhaus......... 32
78 balls 4 fours
A N Cook c Haddin b Johnson......... 30
84 balls 4 fours
R S Bopara lbw b Hilfenhaus......... 0
I R Bell c Ponting b Johnson......... 3
P D Collingwood lbw b Johnson......... 4
J M Anderson c Ponting b Hilfenhaus......... 4
10 balls 1 four
†M J Prior c Haddin b Hilfenhaus......... 22
29 balls 3 fours
S C J Broad c Watson b Siddle......... 61
49 balls 10 fours
G P Swann c Haddin b Johnson......... 62
72 balls 7 fours 1 six
S J Harmison not out......... 19
28 balls 4 fours
G Onions b Johnson......... 0
Extras (b 5, lb 5, w 5, nb 11)......... 26
Total (61.3 overs)......... 263
Fall: 1-58 (Strauss), 2-58 (Bopara), 3-67 (Bell), 4-74 (Collingwood), 5-78 (Cook), 6-86 (Anderson), 7-120 (Prior), 8-228 (Broad), 9-259 (Swann), 10-263 (Onions).
Bowling: Hilfenhaus 19-2-60-4 (nb9) (5-1-19-0, 13-1-41-4), Siddle 12-2-50-1 (w1nb1) (6-2-4-0, 6-0-46-1), S Clark 11-1-74-0 (nb1) (5-1-18-0, 3-0-40-0, 3-0-16-0), M Johnson 19.3-3-69-5 (15-2-59-3, 2-0-8-0, 2.3-1-2-2).
Progress Third day 50 in 18.3 overs, 100 in 35.1 overs, 150 in 44.5 overs, 200 in 48.5 overs, Lunch 245-8 (56.0 overs; Swann 58, Harmison 6), 250 in 58.2 overs. Broad 50: 43 balls 8 fours; Swann 50: 53 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ)
TV replay umpire : I J Gould
Match referee: R S Madugalle
Australia win by an innings and 80 runs.