To listen to an Australian cricketer who has just helped to commit the unpardonable offence is not the joy that might have been expected. In many ways it was possible to feel Shane Watson's pain.
Watson, like so many of his compatriots before this Ashes started, had given up on them. "It's very shattering to be in the position," he said. "After playing so well in Perth and feeling like we had a big chance of being in the series and winning the Ashes, to be in the position we are is very shattering." He felt shattered, he looked shattered, he sounded shattered. He knew what Englishmen had felt like in this country for 24 years and what they had felt like for 16 years anywhere during that period of nearly a quarter of a century.
He was the first Australian to concede the harsh and bitter truth. It must be like being forced to take a cyanide pill at gunpoint, which is how England have made Australia feel for large parts of this series.
"It's not very good, is it?" he said of conceding the Ashes at home. And then he reconsidered. "It's horrendous. Coming into the Ashes series, we knew how important it was going to be to win because Australia hasn't lost the Ashes in Australia for 24 years. We knew that if we didn't win the Ashes it would be very disappointing for us personally to be involved in that kind of history. It's not good history."
And then there were the supporters to consider, those who have turned out in large numbers since day one, despite their darkest feelings expressed in so many opinion polls and phone-ins back in November. All that Watson knew was that Australia had to go to Sydney for the fifth Test and claw something, anything back, even if it was too late for the urn itself.
"We have got to try and restore some pride," he said. "It has been extremely disappointing to play the way we have in Adelaide and here especially, because the Australian fans have come out and supported us and we haven't really given them anything to support. We have to gather in Sydney and try and keep some of our supporters onside because, unfortunately, the way we played we might have turned a few people off."
This was a pre-emptive plea because Australian sports followers have something of a reputation for ditching losers as though they were something mucky on the fingers. If they could come back in Sydney it would be a help, if not a remedy. Fail there and it may take years to re-enlist them.
This country had become accustomed to holding the Ashes, but considered it a favour to the old country when they lost so narrowly in 2005. Order was restored four years ago when Australia won 5-0 and when they lost in England last year there was a general refusal to believe that what had happened should have happened, because in this country's humble opinion the better team had lost if you looked at the individual statistics. But this is different and Watson was aware of that.
England played wonderfully on the third day, led in part by the improbable figure of Tim Bresnan. Called up to replace the tiring Steve Finn, he has been a revelation. A hard Yorkie with a big heart, he bowled with eye-catching skill yesterday and removed Watson, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey all in a row.
"I think it would be my best day in Tests," said Bresnan. "I am ecstatic, over the moon – there are a lot of words to describe it, some I can't repeat.
"The way we have been preparing, especially the lads who have not been playing in the series, has been as though we were going to play. Andy Flower [the England coach] sat us all down and said he would be very surprised if we went through a five-Test series with the same team, with it being so hard-fought and so close together. We knew there was a chance of two or three of us playing and we had to prepare to do that."
Bresnan paid tribute to England's Australian bowling coach, David Saker, who comes from Victoria. His assessment of the conditions they could expect had been spot on.
Poor Watson was left to do what he had to do and defend his captain, Ricky Ponting. They were seagulls circling on the MCG outfield last night, but they might have been vultures. "Ricky doesn't need any encouragement because he has done so much throughout his career," said Watson. "He is a very tough man mentally, as he has always shown, so everyone is and will always be right behind Ricky. He has been a brilliant leader. I have been lucky enough to be around when he has been leading the Australian side."
But an Australian captain without the Ashes at home is an emperor without clothes.
Bresnan's rise and rise
Born 28 February 1985.
The medium fast bowler first played for Yorkshire aged 16 and was voted the county's most promising young player in 2002 and 2003. After three years in the one-day side finally made his Test debut in the 10-wicket win against West Indies last May. Took seven wickets in the series in Bangladesh in March, and proved handy with the bat, hitting his highest Test score of 91 against the Tigers.
Wickets: 19 (ave. 28.57).
Runs: 129 (32.25).
Figures accurate at the close of day three
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