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July 24, 2005
Performances like these ensure that no matter how much England improve against everybody else they will be mocked by Australia until they can ride side-by-side over five Tests. With rain on every radar, the final five batsmen collapsed faster than even the most parochial Australian could have imagined, and a potentially difficult conclusion became a ridiculously gentle stroll. With this England embarrassment the series now leans the same way.
What began as two sessions of home fire turned into eight of drowning. What opened as an Ashes series of intense, reciprocal testing became an amusing anecdote by the end of the first stage. What started in '89 with David Gower and Allan Border has been passed on to Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting.
The faces change but the results remain the same. New profiles, ones that hadn't been scared by Steve Waugh or Mark Taylor, were meant to bring clear scrapbooks and fill them with positive clippings against Dad's Army. As England enter the second Test at Edgbaston on August 4 Strauss, Bell, Flintoff and the two Joneses - selectors permitting - will carry the same Baggy-Green scars as their team-mates and so many of their predecessors. The group disease shows no sign of clearing, but individual cases have been shown to disappear when the infected picks up a commentator's microphone.
In the series preamble Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath dismissed - sometimes politely, sometimes not - England's prospects as they had since their first series in '93 and '94-95. At times they appeared to be trumpeting too loudly, but they were right about false dawn No. 8 all along. When it comes to beating England they know everything and deserve PhDs. McGrath tips Australia to win 5-0. It is no joke now.
Combining for the final wicket, the pair finished off the rabble with five victims in 10.1 overs, including four ducks. Warne's comfortable catch of Simon Jones meant that despite having a portrait in the Long Room his name will never appear on the dressing-room honour board for five-wicket hauls. Both men are bowling as well as their mid-30 bodies will allow, but Warne will be 39 in 2009 and too old for a fifth Lord's Test. England must hope McGrath also never returns.
Vaughan said at the presentation there was no need to panic. There are four more Tests for that. Second in the world is again a place that is a hemisphere's distance from No. 1. Contenders must stand tall for entire series instead of 42 overs. England released their squeeze and Australia wiped off the rust and the blood to dominate as they had since Headingley '89.
As wickets tumbled the huddle laughed and cheered. The batsman doing the most damage was from South Africa, just as Robin Smith had been 16 years before. Same old England; same old result.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth