I wouldn’t say the new England, the England that got the best of a draw at Brisbane and beat Australia at Adelaide, had made me blasé about the likelihood of retaining the Ashes.
While likelihood had hardened into certainty for some, it still felt too much like a novelty to me to take an England that can win games Down Under for granted. The scars left by Australia’s 5-0 demolition of us in 2006/7 go too deep.
Mitchell Johnson was chiefly responsible for England’s collapse yesterday. Today, they really had no one to blame but themselves.
Ian Bell and nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson will walk out to the middle tomorrow. England are 5 wickets down and it will require 310 runs and individual acts of heroism to stop Australia from squaring the series. With two whole days to go in this Test, that ain’t going to happen.
Oh, England batting collapse, how we thought we had waved good-bye to you, hopefully never to see you return – well, not in this series, anyway.
But this is England, and their capacity for digging themselves a hole, jumping in and handing their opponents the shovel should never be underestimated.
This is not to say England have gone backward, but if this team is to retain the urn and look beyond that to climbing up the Test rankings then there are things they clearly still have to work on.
They are still relatively weak against spin, although thankfully this isn’t a problem they’ve had to deal with against this opposition. But against venomous pace bowling on a bouncy, fast WACA pitch they have had to learn to readjust from the low, slow tracks they’ve become accustomed to, and it has been a struggle.
England’s second innings got off to an edgy start and they never looked comfortable. Strauss and Cook were out to good balls; Pietersen, Trott and Collingwood wafted late and ineffectually at balls they should have left. Looking to impose themselves on the bowling, all they did was hasten the increasingly inevitable.
Hometown heroes Mike Hussey and Mitchell Johnson prospered with bat and ball respectively, with Hussey feasting on the England bowling; anything short-pitched was pulled disdainfully to the boundary.
Swann bowled hardly at all, and Finn was once again expensive. Of the bowlers only Tremlett emerged with credit once more, taking a well deserved 5 wicket haul, in a losing cause.
And so England go to what will be the last day of this Test on a hiding to nothing. Perhaps, after the dream of the Adelaide victory, with the series square and two Tests to go, this will have been the wake-up call they needed.
They cannot afford complacency, nor can they afford another abject collapse like this one.