And that is pretty much that. Still 90 runs adrift, only three wickets left, short of a cricketing miracle for Australia, or the arrival of a freak hurricane, England will go 3-1 up sometime tomorrow, probably in the morning and regain the Ashes. After the carnage of day one, to all intents and purposes the game was already up.
Being bowled out for 60 more or less guarantees defeat anyway, so today was in some ways a fairly normal panning out of the situation as expected from the end of day one. Australia did bowl a little bit better, though that’s not especially unusual when a day has been as bad as that, it would be hard to imagine Australia could do any worse. Yet such was the total dominance of England’s position, they could happily play their shots safe in the knowledge that it mattered little.
Mitchell Starc got just rewards for a bowling performance that was a cut above those of his colleagues, but with the game already pretty much gone, it will hardly be a successful set of figures he will look back on with too much pleasure. Once again, Moeen and Broad showed they like batting together. Moeen is simply gorgeous to watch when in full flow, reminiscent of David Gower, to the point you want him to succeed simply because of that. His batting this series has been a major plus point, the debate over him will certainly continue, but his performances at key times with the willow have been the least of the issues.
As for Broad, some time ago it started to look as though he was just beginning to get his batting back. It’s not entirely there yet, but he is staying in line, and looking to play shots, rather than desperately slogging. A Broad who plays like that is a serious asset in the lower order.
Australia couldn’t possibly have batted as badly as they did in the first innings, and the opening stand from Warner and Rogers restored both a little respect and a fair degree of sanity to proceedings. Yet the problems were still there, Rogers never looked entirely comfortable, while Warner was consistently squared up. England have clearly identified that his strength to the short ball is also his weakness when he’s cramped for room, hence coming around the wicket. His arms don’t extend and the ball can only go up. Other teams will be watching.
From a promising start, Australia collapsed horribly yet again. In each case it was a grim shot, even allowing for the two lives provided when England bowlers overstepped; Smith looks completely at sea at present, which is remarkable when only four innings ago he looked imperious at Lords. His idiosyncratic technique was always going to be examined in conditions where the ball moves in the air and off the pitch. He’s more than good enough to work that out, but it’s far too late for this series, and not alone in having serious difficulty against the moving ball. Clarke too was hopelessly out of touch, while Marsh’s dreadful shot did little to change the minds of those who simply don’t think he’s good enough for Test cricket.
As previously mentioned, it is never quite evident that a team has lost it until it actually happens, any more than anyone expected England’s hammering last time out. The signs were there after the first Test of a team showing signs of distress, and only a pitch that couldn’t have been better prepared to entirely nullify England’s bowlers got Australia back into it. Yet the abject, spineless capitulation of Australia’s batting in the last two Tests has been every bit as shambolic as anything England produced in 2013/14.
Well as England have bowled, time and again players have been dismissed playing attacking shots that are exceptionally high risk, with no evidence of a willingness to graft in less than perfect batting conditions. These are not bad players, to be getting out in this way repeatedly betrays minds that are completely shot, a team that has no idea how to arrest the slide. There is always a temptation when England win to limit the praise to them by pointing out the faults of the opposition. Yet in just the same way as the most recent 5-0 said more about England’s abysmal surrender than it did a great Australian side, so this almost certain series victory is less about England being outstanding than Australia being dire.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of things to praise England for, the catching has been excellent, the on field direction has simply been far better than anyone could possibly have expected from the captain given his performance to date, while Joe Root in particular is starting to look the real deal, and Ben Stokes might still be inconsistent but is a major talent in the making with both bat and ball. Yet when Australia keep being bowled out to self inflicted calamity rather than England brilliance, that praise does need to be tempered by a recognition that England haven’t suddenly become a great side.
Future opponents will not be anything like so meek. That isn’t meant to be grudging, more a reflection on an astounding collapse in morale and stomach for the fight from Australia. England can certainly take pleasure from the way they have pressurised Australia – unforced errors are rarely entirely unforced when it afflicts the whole team – but there can have been few tours where Australia have been so appallingly inept on such a regular basis.
This has been a truly bizarre series, no match has even had the resemblance of a close contest, and this fourth match has been even more one sided than the three previous. Australia are shot to pieces. Quite why that is, will be a debate for the future. For now, they deserve every bit of the kicking they are getting from their own media who at least seem to recognise a team shambles when they see one.