England lost their way so hopelessly in Tasmania on Saturday that they might as well have been wandering in the treacherous wilderness that makes up the island's west coast. When Australia were there for the taking in the pleasant confines of Bellerive Oval, the tourists suddenly looked as if they were being asked to negotiate a rugged mountain range followed by the odd rain forest.
The result was that they lost by seven runs, which is as close as they have come to beating the best side in the world in 10 consecutive one-day matches.
The familiar defeat – the Ashes are a doddle by comparison – made qualification for the VB Series finals much more difficult. The prospect of progress in the World Cup, only four weeks' hence is of the pipe dream variety.
England performed efficiently for long stretches of the game, but at key moments were let down by their batting, their bowling and their fielding, which can make any match hard to manage.
Inexperience cost them plenty. First, it was the fast bowler, Stephen Harmison, who bowled 11 of the 18 wides that the team sent down – including five in an over.
Secondly, it was the Somerset all-rounder, Ian Blackwell, who was sent in at the unaccustomed position of No 3 and found his ability to hit the right target as elusive as Harmison's.
This was always likely to happen. Harmison was playing his third one-day international and Blackwell his seventh. They are callow in the ways of the one-day game and it showed. It was certainly the culprit nailed by the coach Duncan Fletcher.
"It all boils down to experience again," he said. "Yes, I would bat Blackwell again at number three. It looks like the ideal position for him to go in. There was no real pressure. Sometimes there is a conundrum about whether to use our inexperienced players in situations. It's an over thing rather than an tempo thing."
Fletcher was equally supportive of Harmison. "Ernie Els and Tiger Woods can walk out on a golf course and lose it for four holes. I can assure you that bowling is a very difficult and hard technique when you're running in and bowling flat out. You have to weigh it up and these guys have got to get experience.
"Do we leave them out now and bring them back in again as an inexperienced player? Where do you draw the line."
The coach talked of the courage and character needed to back players rather than chopping and changing. He has little choice with the World Cup so close. But it is still difficult to contemplate that England could be quite so unprepared.
Of the side that lost here, four have more than 50 one-day caps, but four more have fewer than 20. Six months ago, if you had mentioned four of them as potential members of the World Cup squad, the England and Wales Cricket Board might have had you on a charge for bringing the game into disrepute.
When Fletcher talks of inexperience, he may be right, but it exists partly because the selectors decided it should. Harmison, for instance, has been playing for Durham for five years, and was first picked in an England squad three years ago without making the team until last summer. They have had several bashes at rebuilding the one-day side, but his name never arose until weeks ago.
Similarly, Blackwell was mentioned by some judges as a one-day candidate two years ago. He got his chance in the Champions Trophy in Colombo last September only after five players were injured. England are now playing catch up with the rest of the world. There are fellows playing for the Netherlands who have more one-day international experience than some of England's bunch.
The callowness does not seem to be affecting Jimmy Anderson, the 20-year-old Lancashire fast bowler, who was summoned from the ECB National Academy in Adelaide last month and has made an immediate impression.
Anderson's latest trick was to dismiss Ricky Ponting, inducing an outside edge, immediately after being struck for a four and a six. Anderson is so quiet that there are grounds for worrying the umpire may not hear his appeals, but he is controlling his away swing nervelessly.
After making early inroads in their fifth match of the tournament, England were undermined by not only by their own indiscipline, but a well-judged hundred from Damien Martyn.
The Australian total of 271 looked formidable on a two-paced surface, but the England opening pair, Nick Knight and Marcus Trescothick, were making light of it. At 165 without loss in the 32nd over it was a canter to victory and the VB Series finals.
But both batsmen might have felt a touch of contrition for their strokes. Australia saw the opening and reined England back. A late flurry led by the captain, Nasser Hussain, could not untangle England from their Tasmanian rain forest.
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