The end came shortly after 11am local time, a lofted straight drive for four by Cameron Bancroft in front of a deserted Gabba. Perhaps, for England, it was their one small mercy. After all, if you are going to go down to a crushing, dispiriting 10-wicket Ashes defeat, probably best to have as few witnesses as possible.
It was a handsome victory, although one that for Australia will feel all the sweeter for all the ugly work that went into it. This was the champagne breakfast after the brutal night shift, the open-top bus tour after a hard-fought Cup Final. The remaining 56 runs were knocked off insouciantly, almost inconsequentially, a passage of play that even those involved will struggle to recall in the months and years to come.
Even the hardy Barmy Army who constituted the majority of the crowd seemed less preoccupied by the actual cricket than by their refrain of “There’s Only One Phillip Hughes”, a touching tribute to the tragic opener on the third anniversary of his passing. And perhaps it was the reminder we required, on a day in which various forms of nonsense had reared their heads, or were about to, that cricketing death is insultingly dissimilar to the real thing.
Yes, England had lost. Yes, their wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow had seen his mug splashed all over the back pages for his nocturnal fripperies. Yes, this Ashes tour is already developing a crushingly forlorn momentum, the sort with the potential to end up one tuba player short of a Laurel and Hardy farce. But the sun was out, the cricket was on, and still four eagerly-awaited Tests remain after this. Things could certainly be worse.
Clutching at straws? England, at least, will try. There will be disappointment in that dressing room, a few tired feet, a few tired shoulders, perhaps after three encouraging days and two chastening days, even a few tired minds. But they have competed well. They have bowled with vigour and intelligence. They fly south to Tuesday, with five days to regroup before the second Test begins under lights with the pink ball in Adelaide this Saturday. A change of scenery and colour will do them the world of good.
And despite the inevitability of defeat here, they bowled with good pace and good industry: a proper morning’s work, no corners cut, no thoughts of flight. Still, that elusive wicket failed to arrive. James Anderson found the edge once or twice, but to no avail. Stuart Broad settled into a nice, innocuous rhythm. Chris Woakes hurried David Warner with a bouncer. Bancroft edged Jake Ball through the vacant second slip. Yes, we were clutching at straws all right.
For the pitch was too flat, the sun too hot, the cause too lost. The outfield, a brilliant chartreuse green, felt like a cavernous ocean that threatened to swallow England whole. Warner picked up the pace after an entirely superfluous drinks break, Bancroft capped a fine debut and ultimately England were simply broken by the futility of their task. It was all over, bar no shouting.
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