The beginning of a new journey
Well, this isn't how any of us hoped things would be by the time we reached Melbourne. We always knew we were in for a fight, we always respected Australia, but I don't think anyone expected the series to be over so quickly.
We have to be honest: we haven't come close to matching Australia. They have out-played us with the bat, with the ball and in the field. It hasn't even been close.
The key to our success in the series in England was that we won the key sessions. But there have hardly been any key sessions here. We haven't gone close to earning any. They have improved in all areas since the previous summer and we have failed to do ourselves justice in any.
We can't hide behind excuses. We can't say we are weary or that we have kept losing the toss or anything like that. We have to face the truth, individually and collectively, and admit that we have fallen far below the standards we set ourselves. We have to do better.
The frustration is that we know we can play so much better. I know people are saying 'the wheels have come off' this tour, but it doesn't feel like that on the inside. We are still working hard, we still believe in each other and, personally, I feel as if I'm playing as well as if I ever have. I know I haven't scored the runs I would have liked this series, but it feels as if they are just around the corner. I know a few of the other guys feel the same way about their games.
But, with the Ashes gone and Graeme Swann having announced his retirement, there is a sense that we are at the beginning of a new journey. We need to rebuild, to refresh and to come again. We still have a spine of experience in the side - the likes of me, Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook - but we will also need fresher faces to come in and move the side forward. The success of the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes is very encouraging in that regard. They are going to be important players for England for many years.
The retirement of Swanny certainly took me by surprise and it probably will change the way we play. The beauty of Swann was that he allowed us to play a four-man attack. He had the skill to play a holding role for us in the first innings and attack in the second. The drift he got on the ball would draw batsmen out of position and he got so many revs on the ball that his spin or his arm-ball were always dangerous.
To left-handers, in particular, he would drift the ball in so it landed in line and then either turn it to take the outside edge or push it on with the arm to hit the pads. He is right up there with the best spinners I've faced, though I do think I have the odd distinction of having got both him and his brother, Alec, out to my bowling but never been out to him.
While everyone watching at home will have seen the world-class spin bowling, they won't have seen his sense of humour in the dressing room. Swanny had a massive influence in lightening the tension when we were under pressure and reminding us all what a privilege and joy it is to play cricket for your country. Even on bad days, you were never far from a smile and a joke with Swanny and that will be missed. He has had a great career and it's been a pleasure to play alongside him.
Clearly the tour has not gone as any of us would have wanted. Of course confidence levels have dropped and of course the mood is not as happy as it was last time when we were winning. But there is no lack of hunger or fight or determination. We have been beaten, yes, but not for lack of effort.
We're still excited to be going into this Test. Any time you pull on an England shirt is a genuine thrill and I can guarantee everyone in the England side feels the same way. You dream of playing in Ashes Tests from your earliest days, so there is no sense at all that anyone wants to get home or put this tour behind us. You very rarely have the chance to play in front of around 100,000 people so there will be no problems whatsoever with motivation or anything like that.
But this is a new start. Now is the time to draw a line behind what has happened and build a new phase in England cricket. The Ashes are gone and this is the start of a new age in English cricket.
I aim to play for another four or five years at this level - and then a few more back at Warwickshire - and I'm very confident that with the talent we have, we can help get the side back to the top of the rankings long before then. It's been a disappointing few weeks, but we'll be back.
A fixture in England's middle order for almost a decade, Ian Bell has played in four Ashes-winning sides