Australia have beaten England in Melbourne by eight wickets in what could prove the most dispiriting defeat of this tour so far.
Not only did England give away a position of enormous strength, but for the first time in the series, their ineptitude clearly outweighed Australia's brilliance as this tour of woe plummeted to new depths.
Click begin slideshow to read the key points from Day 4 at the MCG.
The result of this match was nowhere near as certain as many were suggesting on the evening of Day 3.
Australia were going to have to score the second highest score of the match on a fourth-day pitch to win and, although clouded by the melancholy of England’s dire performance on Day 3, there was still an opportunity for England on the morning of Day 4.
It is with this in mind that the shambles that followed was all the more disappointing. The errors and mistakes of the day are almost too many in number to recollect entirely.
Alastair Cook’s field settings immediately appeared hesitant, neither attacking nor run containing—a thick edge skewed through the vacant gully region early on.
In just the fourth over of the day, an edge from the bat of Chris Rogers flew between the diving Alastair Cook and the rooted-to-the-spot Jonny Bairstow for whom the catch certainly belonged.
Less than two overs later, another edge, this time from the bat of David Warner, was shelled by Cook at slip; this chance, unlike the first, was unbearably simple. A more difficult half-chance bit the dust minutes later. It was painful to watch.
When Joe Root was brought on ahead of Monty Panesar within half an hour of play beginning, that England were desperate was all too obvious. Ben Stokes did pick up the wicket of David Warner, squeezing the door to victory back open, but it was hastily slammed shut as Rogers and Shane Watson bedded in.
England’s tactics continued to bemuse; as Root wiled away at one end, Stuart Broad, having bowled just two overs, lurked in the outfield. So too did Monty Panesar, who was only brought into the attack after 90 minutes of play.
Mid-off was immediately dropped back to the boundary, as was deep square-leg. England were beaten in all but the scorebook.
This was, considering the strength of England’s position midway through the third day and the nature of their capitulation, the worst defeat of the series.
Considering Nathan Lyon took five wickets on Day 3, the way Panesar was used—or not as it were—until more than 90 minutes into the day’s play was as intriguing a window into England’s long-term plans regarding him as it was bizarre.
It is unlikely Panesar would have played here had Graeme Swann not retired, and the way Cook utilised him over the course of the Test perhaps carried with it a greater truth that England never viewed the post-Swann world as a Panesar-occupied one.
Rather, he played here, and may well do in Sydney, as much as a temporary stop-gap before the selectors have time to move on and select someone else.
In amongst England’s ineptitude, Chris Rogers played a sublime innings, capitalising on his good fortune and punishing England with uncharacteristic style and class.
He spoke after his first innings of his frustration at not turning his 50 into a hundred, and although there was no real threat to his place, he will now almost certainly be opening the batting on the first day of Australia’s series against South Africa.
The first three Test matches were easily explained: Australia were very good and England were very bad.
Here, Australia’s brilliance was far less obvious and instead England’s ineptitude was strikingly so. But it was ineptitude that the causation of which is difficult to pinpoint in isolation of that match itself in that Australia did little untoward to throw England off kilter.
The only feasible explanation for this quite shocking defeat is that England were and are still just too downtrodden, too out of form, too unbalanced to compete adequately—regardless of the performance of Australia.
All the momentum was and still is with Michael Clarke’s team, and even when they have abated in their excellence, their flow has been impossible to stem. England are stuck in a rut of despair and have no way to escape.
Similarly to after the defeat in Perth, it is difficult to see how England can improve their side, such is the dearth of options presented to them by their shallow squad.
However, with almost no pride left to restore, and any chance of maintaining respectability lost, England may go for the jugular with some more out-of-the-box selections for Sydney—one last final throw of the dice in what they can treat as a one-off match, if you like.
Michael Carberry’s place is certainly under threat following his strange innings yesterday and indeed his series-long struggles to convert starts into more substantial scores.
Of course, there is no reserve opener in the squad, but there remains the potential for Joe Root to move back up to open and Ian Bell to No. 3 which would free up the middle order—perhaps for Gary Ballance to come in.
Tim Bresnan and Monty Panesar may also miss out, with Boyd Rankin yet to be tested and James Tredwell and Scott Borthwick having been called into the squad after Swann’s retirement.
Ultimately, it’s now become almost impossible to envisage any group of England cricketers beating Australia.