Sydney Five-fer: Day Three
Dave Tickner picks out the key points from day three of the fifth Ashes Test at the SCG.
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1. Fitting finale
Could the series really end any other way? England chasing down 448 on a tricky Sydney pitch would've looked unlikely at the best of times and these are assuredly not the best of times.
But even so, even by England's pitiful standards of this series, to get bowled out in 31.4 overs was quite the thing.
This was a two-stage capitulation. First, the guts were ripped out of England's innings - instantly shattering any minuscule chance of getting anywhere near the target - as the three senior batsmen came and went inside 14 overs. After leaving one he should have played in the first innings, Cook completed a nightmarish Test at the end of a horrible series by playing one he should've left. He ended the campaign with 56 fewer runs than he made in the first Test at Brisbane in 2010.
Ian Bell provided the much-needed impetus with a tone-setting strike-rate of 84 when finally given his chance at number three, but sadly did so for only 19 balls before steering a late cut straight to gully. The fact he called "Yes" as he hit it like some kind of anti-Watson suggests he either didn't know where he'd hit it or where the fielder was.
Then Kevin Pietersen was spectacularly caught one-handed by Australia's specialist short-leg fielder George Bailey. England 57/3. Here we go again.
Stage two of the collapse was a far giddier affair, England throwing themselves over the precipice by losing their last seven wickets for 79 runs in 10.4 fast-forward post-tea overs featuring almost as many sixes as wickets. All out for 166, to go with the 155 in the first innings. It was, as David Gower described it on Sky Sports, "an irresistible force against a very, very movable object".
In between, Michael Carberry played more fluently than at any stage in the series, nicely marrying controlled aggression with defence in compiling a neat 43 that, alas, looks unlikely to be more than a well-constructed coda to his Test career.
Carberry and the free-swinging Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad apart, it was horrendous. Even the boundary-filled Stokes and Broad innings of 32 and 42 were nothing more than the last desperate punches of a fighter who knows he is beaten.
Collectively, it is hard to recall a series where England have batted worse. Even against Pakistan in the UAE it wasn't this bad, was it? Maybe it's still too soon.
But for no batsman to reach 300 runs or average above 35, for the team to manage only one century between them, is entirely unacceptable. It is too simplistic surely to put such abject collective failure down to lots of players being out of form. There is something broken, something rotten, at the core of this England team.
2. Buck doesn't stop here
Is it more impressive to have made runs at the start of the series when there was all to play for, or at the end of it as others flagged and lost their form?
There is merit to both, and plenty of credit must go to Chris Rogers, who has ended the Mega Ashes as the leading runscorer despite playing for his place in just about every one of the 10 Tests.
That he has made second-innings centuries at the back end of the series in Melbourne and Sydney when others such as Michael Clarke and David Warner have been unable to maintain high standards right to the last strikes me as hugely impressive.
A feature of both those centuries has been the range of strokes, the fluency of the innings. Perhaps the retirement of his long-time tormentor Graeme Swann aided that sense of freedom.
In any case, he has batted superbly. He is now sure to tour South Africa, looking as capable as any Australian batsman of handling the awesome threat of Steyn, Morkel and Philander, and it's almost impossible not to be delighted for one of the sport's undoubted good guys.
After the gift of Rogers scoring seven runs - the same total as any of England's top five mustered in the first innings - off one ball yesterday, today we got another.
Australia have already broken England's batting. Today they broke the actual bat as a Michael Carberry defensive shot against Ryan Harris ended with his blade split in two. It was held together by a sticker. The sticker refused to give in, performing way above expectation in trying to keep the bat functioning despite the fact that every other part of the bat was broken beyond repair. The sticker is Ben Stokes in the broken England team/broken cricket bat analogy, if you hadn't got there yourself.
The only surprise was that, on inspection, the bat didn't have Blackpool written all the way through it.
4. Spin doctor
The writing was on the wall for Monty Panesar when Cook turned first to Joe Root on the final morning in Melbourne.
So Scott Borthwick not getting a bowl until after Pietersen had sent down a few overs this morning doesn't look good for the Durham leggie.
A promising young cricketer who looks to have a good attitude, Borthwick's inclusion for this Test was nevertheless the most inexplicable decision in a series full of them from England. That he ended the Test with four wickets and topped his team's series bowling averages is amusing, but of less significance than the treatment he received from the skipper.
5. Where now
And so to the future. The inevitable, unanswerable question that we'll have a stab at anyway. What next for England?
It's stunningly clear that something has gone wrong. What's harder for those of us on the outside looking in to know is what's cause and what's effect, what is disease and what is symptom. England must make a diagnosis, and they need to get it right.
Happily, they do not need to rush it. England's next Test match is not until May against Sri Lanka. There is no need for snap decisions. Whatever changes are made - and the one certainty is that change of some kind in some combination of personnel, attitude, approach and certainly performance is necessary - do not need to be made right now in the emotional heat of a 5-0 shellacking.
It was wrong of David Collier to come out and issue what amounted to votes of confidence in Alastair Cook and Andy Flower before this Test was even finished, but it would be equally wrong to instantly demand heads on platters. It will solve nothing and may make things worse. (And those who think things cannot possibly get any worse have clearly not been paying attention during a series in which England have uncovered layer after fresh layer of rock-bottom.)
Maybe both should go. Perhaps both should stay. Graham Gooch's position as batting coach inevitably comes under scrutiny. The bowling has been less dire, but the initial squad was fundamentally flawed and none of the inexperienced (at this level) bowlers have made any progress at all. Steven Finn was described by Flower after today's game as a "great prospect" almost four years after making his Test debut. In its own way, damning of both Finn and the coaching he's received. David Saker therefore will also see his place in the set-up called into question.
But it would be prudent for all sides to allow some dust to settle before any important decisions are made.
Now if you'll excuse me, I must get off this fence. I'm getting splinters.