England v Australia, 4th Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day August 27, 2005

From sparkling ocean to grotty industrial estate

Justin Langer hides his face after his dismissal © Getty Images
This series just won't stop getting worse for Australia. Each morning supporters wake wishing the nightmare to end and the turnaround to begin. The visions of reality can only be more traumatic for the players raised on success and facing their mortality. But nothing they have done, no change of socks, tactics or superstitions, has made a lasting difference.

Australia lost a trophy to England for the first time in decades today. While the women's team gave up a prize they held since 1963, the men struggled in their battle to keep an urn they have owned for 16 years.

Thirty-seven runs behind with six wickets in hand, it is most likely that Australia - barring the escape clauses of Clarke, Katich, Gilchrist, Warne and weather - will have to win at The Oval to share the series and retain the Ashes. But apart from in India, a victory has never looked as out of reach for them over the past decade. This is still taking time to get used to.

The first innings was a batting embarrassment expected from Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. Perhaps even those teams would be upset to have their efforts compared to this limp display. Folding for 218 in 49.1 overs, Australia followed-on for the first time since playing Pakistan in 1988, the year the country celebrated its bicentenary of European settlement, Brisbane hosted the World Expo, Shaun Tait cheered his fifth birthday, and England held the Ashes.

Fortunately that Test was the beginning of the end of Australia's 1980s horrors as they rose from basement to rooftop. However, the desperately hard-earned view has transformed from sparkling ocean to grotty industrial estate. Whenever things started looking bright today something soon went wrong.

Starting at 99 for 5, Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich opened with a run-a-ball half-century partnership before Australia lost three wickets for six runs. Brett Lee thumped a trio of huge sixes - two from Steve Harmison cleared grandstands - and fell a couple of metres short of a fourth that would have given him a fifty. Instead he was caught and Australia finished their first innings 259 behind.

An unamused Ricky Ponting heads back to the dressing room © Getty Images
As the openers shook hands at reaching 50 in the second attempt, Matthew Hayden drove loosely to gully. Justin Langer, who won a reprieve when dropped by Andrew Strauss, worked ridiculously hard for 61 only to let Ashley Giles brush his glove. Langer departed with his hand covering his face, a position that has become painfully familiar with baggy green fans sitting at home or at the grounds.

The worst switch was flicked by Damien Martyn, who was involved in his second lazy run out of the series when he called Ricky Ponting for a journey not even the most desperate taxi driver would have accepted. Ponting, who had settled on another match-turning century, had reached 48 with little danger and was fuming. Two overs later Martyn re-joined his captain after flashing at Andrew Flintoff and another pair of wickets had gone quickly.

Michael Clarke and Katich soothed the situation and when bad light forced them off the dreamers closed their eyes and thought of rearguard centuries, a lead of 150 and Shane Warne spinning victory. With what has already happened in the series the vision is fanciful, but there aren't many days left for u-turns.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo