Mark Steel: This is like the first time you see your dad drunk

My Ashes: By the end the Australians seemed so perplexed they looked as if they had started playing for a hobby, having been bought a bat and a lesson for their birthdays.

Thursday 09 December 2010 01:00
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At around about half past midnight, the most neighbourly and public spirited thing to do would have been to walk up your street banging on every door, to make sure everyone was up for the last half hour of the Adelaide Test.

Even postmen who had to be up at four o'clock or parents who'd just got their crying babies to sleep would surely have thanked you, for ensuring they didn't miss this extraordinary event.

If local councils had any sense of community they'd have let off sirens, like the ones that warned of a bombing raid during the Blitz, so no one would miss Swann and Anderson bemusing the Australian tail.

By the end the Australians seemed so perplexed they looked as if they'd just started playing for a hobby, having been bought a bat and a lesson for their birthdays. So you expected Andrew Strauss to go up to Marcus North and say: "Try holding the bat with both hands, here I'll show you. Now you have a go. And if you think you've hit it far enough don't forget to run." When Swann bowled Siddle you wondered if he'd say: "Let's not count that otherwise you won't have had a bat."

Poor Xavier Doherty, their replacement spinner, looked as if he was worried his dad would arrive any moment and shout: "There you are, I thought I asked you to help bring in some logs, now come back home at once."

This wasn't just a win that puts England one up, it was a realisation that Australia are becoming clueless. You kept thinking: "This is Australia, maybe the 10th wicket will put on 470". But instead they got worse with each day. So an article in the Sydney Morning Herald began: "Don't worry, Australia can still win the series. Not this one, obviously, but we may beat Bangladesh to stay in the world's top dozen or so nations."

It's all so disconcerting, watching a team that's dominated with such authority flail around like this, like the first time you see your dad drunk, and you wonder how something you saw as impregnable can appear so ridiculous.

At the end the Australians were laughing, as if trying to save face by saying: "It's only a Test match, we're not bothered either way," with expressions recognisable from countless English late-order batsmen who've had to fulfil their role as a lost cause, going in at No 10 needing to put on 580 to make the other side bat again. It all suggests the Australians are going to need lessons from the English in the art of being hopeless for generations.

We can teach them to spend a few years refusing to accept it, so they keep insisting they are the world's best despite being ranked behind New Zealand, which will cause them to change the entire team every match until almost everyone in the country has played, many of which will be hailed as the "New Glenn McGrath" before taking 0 for 13 off four balls, then spraining an elbow and retiring to teach PE at a primary school.

They've already learnt the technique of desperately campaigning for old players to save them by coming out of retirement. There are calls for Shane Warne to return as captain, so they can soon progress to calling for Allan Border, Richie Benaud, Donald Bradman, Rod Laver, Eddie Charlton, then suggest naturalising Sachin Tendulkar as an Australian citizen, until they're as brilliant at being a shambles as they once were at cricket.

Disclaimer: Please be aware trends may go up as well as down, and if England end up losing this series 3-1 I am in no way responsible.

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