When will England start to learn from year after year of humiliation?
What utter humiliation it was for England. The cordon of Australian slips stretched out like a chorus line. All that was lacking was some high stepping. If the wicketkeeper had wanted to speak to the man on the end he would have needed to phone him.
Here was a one-day match in which they were palpably not up to the job and Australia were taking the rise. Eight slips indeed. Long before the end the crowd was deserting; there were not enough of its members left to raise a decent boo. That was at Old Trafford in 2001. England were bowled out for 86 and lost by 125 runs.
Nothing has changed, little has been learned, sincere yet hollow promises are still being made and remade. The tourists spared their hapless, hopeless opponents the array of slips at Trent Bridge on Thursday night but otherwise the execution was quite as clinical, as they cavorted home by 111 runs.
It was Australia's sixth consecutive win and at Chester-le-Street tomorrow they will almost certainly add another. Seventh hell for England. No side has lost every game in a seven-match series. England might already have become the first but when they were losing 5-0 to India last year the tournament was curtailed because of the Mumbai terrorist attack.
In that summer of 2001, England were coming towards the end of an 11-match losing sequence, which included all six at home to Pakistan and Australia following five abroad the preceding winter. In 2006 they were beaten 5-0 by Sri Lanka, the sorry mess being completed when England made 321 in the final match and their opponents knocked the target off with more than 12 overs left.
But this time, it is only four weeks since the genuine accomplishment and joy of winning the Ashes. How that has been dissipated. England have become more and more wretched as the series has progressed. They are tired, those who were involved in the Ashes feel quite rightly that they were not able properly to reflect on or to enjoy their achievement, those who were not have signally failed to make any impact. Any strategy has been hard to discern amid a plethora of truly awful, ill-planned batting and lacklustre, largely unimaginative bowling.
Australia are not the glittering Australia of 2001. That team which subjugated England in Manchester contained Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. England are being turned over this time by cricketers called Tim Paine, Cameron White, Callum Ferguson and James Hopes. Whatever else they may become, it will not be legends of the game.
There are many facets of this series amiss. Above all, it should not be taking place. It was badly timed in every respect. All the games have been played before capacity attendances partly because of the Ashes, but that does not diminish the sense of a game being milked dry.
Then there is the Champions Trophy for which both sides depart on Monday. The Champions Trophy is one of those major one-day international tournaments the England and Wales Cricket Board's mission statement says England must win. The tournament, however, is being played in Johannesburg which is 6,000ft above sea level, unlike Chester-le-Street which is about two inches.
It takes time to become accustomed to altitude. The air is different – a three-minute egg takes four minutes in Johannesburg – which is why the other six have been there playing warm-up matches. England arrive on Tuesday and play Sri Lanka on Friday. They will be breathless.
There is also the matter of selection, easy to deride in hindsight. But England were playing a dangerous game in naming this side for this series and, therefore, for the Champions Trophy as well.
They were always likely to miss profoundly Kevin Pietersen, their best batsman by a distance and the only game-changer, and Andrew Flintoff, their best bowler. But it was a gamble picking Joe Denly, who had been overlooked before. These selectors have made much of there being a right time to pick players but for Denly to be selected now when he was ignored against the obviously weaker West Indies in May does not seem logical. Similarly, Eoin Morgan has been in such awful form for Middlesex that he could, more smartly, have been avoided. The player contracts, announced in the middle of the series, supply mixed evidence of selectorial oversight.
Ryan Sidebottom had to play in this series, it is true, to check if he had overcome his travails and was still up for international cricket. But to have awarded him a central contract worth £150,000 when he had taken just three international wickets in the preceding year seemed extraordinary.
Ian Bell was also awarded a central contract but he was overlooked for this series, despite the absence of Pietersen. The selectors might have been making a point but it was folly. If they wanted new blood, they might have opted for Bell's Warwickshire team-mate, Jonathan Trott, who, it may be recalled, scored a hundred on his Test debut in the Ashes decider. Or, if they wanted to pick a chap they had tried before, might not they have alighted on Ed Joyce, the leading one-day run scorer in the country this year?
Any semblance of strategy has long since been dismantled by Australian hard-nosed efficiency. Unless something remarkable occurs do not be surprised to see them lining up like the Ziegfeld Girls tomorrow.
Hit for six ... seven? England's one-day woe
*4 Sep 2009 (The Oval)
Australia won by four runs
*6 Sep 2009 (Lord's)
Australia won by 39 runs
*9 Sep 2009 (Rose Bowl)
Australia won by six wickets
*12 Sep 2009 (Lord's)
Australia won by seven wickets
*15 Sep 2009 (Trent Bridge)
Australia won by four wickets
*17 Sep 2009 (Trent Bridge)
Australia won by 111 runs
*To come: Seventh ODI
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