It takes everything Joe Root has not to scream. It starts when the ball dribbles innocuously to forward square leg. Root's been trying to show some fight and lead from the front, but when he tries to play a pull shot, the ball smashes into his glove. The incident isn't noticed until Root calls for help. When he first tries to take his glove off, Root finds it hard. It's clear why, his right index finger looks thoroughly battered. The physio Craig de Weymarn twists and pulls it, then asks Root to shake his hand. De Weymarn laughs, Root grimaces.
He looks in real pain. Much of his previous pain on this tour has been emotional, this is physical. The commentators suggest the finger is broken. Root takes a painkiller and decides to bat on. The next ball he faces is a bouncer from Mitchell Starc.
Root makes it to stumps, after play he celebrates his son's first birthday, and then goes off for what should be his last sleep of these nightmare Ashes.
A thunderstorm is attacking Brisbane while Pat Cummins is bowling reverse swing very fast. Root has moved to 15 from 45 balls under the lights of the first innings. But the ball swings too much at pace. It hits him straight in front; he loses balance, and the umpire gives it not out. On review, it's out.
Root was batting because James Vince had run himself out. Vince was the most significant risk taken by either side before the Ashes. At least in Tim Paine, Australia knew they had a quality keeper. With Vince, the selectors merely hoped that they had found a decent No. 3. If England are to win, their best chance is Vince making runs. And he did, 83 of them, almost double his previous career best. But Vince has finished the Ashes with only one other score above fifty.
Root would make five fifties, but he'd also never pass 83.
When Root was dismissed in that first innings at Brisbane, it should have been Ben Stokes coming to the crease to replace him. In the 2013-14 Ashes, Stokes had made 120 at the WACA, despite the surrounding carnage, and in the last meeting between the two countries, at Edgbaston in June, he had added another hundred to eliminate Australia from the Champions Trophy.
In this series Stokes would have batted at six, Jake Ball wouldn't have played in the first Test. Moeen Ali wouldn't have batted higher than No.8, with Chris Woakes at 9. Stokes is a better bowler than Ball, especially later in the innings, and he's a better batsman than Moeen. Moeen made 38 that innings, two runs fewer than his top score in the series of 40, and he had been dropped back down the order by the end. Ball took 1 for 115 at the Gabba and didn't play again.
Root made 51 in the second innings before being trapped lbw. He talked to Moeen about reviewing the decision; he decided against it, and then swore as he took off his gloves.
Root won the toss and bowled in Adelaide; it's a risky decision in a day-night Test, and it was made worse by his bowlers pitching the ball too short. Stuart Broad took two wickets for 72; he'd got three in the first innings at Brisbane. So after three innings he had five wickets; in the whole rest of the series he'd pick up another six.
It was James Anderson who stood up. His figures look like those of a spinner: 17 wickets, an economy rate of 2.1 and striking every 79 balls. And so it was Anderson - capitalising on Australia's decision not to enforce the follow-on - who ripped through their second innings with 5 for 43 as they collapsed to 138 all out.
England needed 354 to win in a staggering upset. At stumps on the fourth day, Root was on 67, England were four down and almost halfway to the total. The next morning, Woakes, the nightwatchman, fell to the second ball of the day; Root joined him 16 balls later. England lost by 121 runs.
Root was caught down the leg-side in the first innings at the WACA. The two men behind him in England's batting order both made hundreds. Steve Smith made almost as many runs as the pair combined. Mitchell Marsh, who had the lowest average for a regular top-order player ever, made a higher score than any Englishman all tour. For the series, Smith made 687 runs, 309 more than Root. The big four showdown was a knockout, despite the fact that both men passed fifty in the same number of innings.
In the second innings at Perth, Root was set again, trying to put pressure on Australia. He attacked a ball from Nathan Lyon, got an outside edge, it ballooned off Paine's gloves, and found itself floating to Smith at slip.
Root didn't move, standing in the cover-drive position for a moment, before leaving the ground looking confused by what had happened. It was the last time he'd have a chance to perform in a live Ashes Test.
Alastair Cook hadn't passed 40 once in the series before Melbourne; there was talk he might not be long for this Team. He and Mark Stoneman averaged 21 for their opening stands. Stoneman's first-class average is 35, but in the last two years of county cricket, he's averaged over 50. In his first eight Tests he hadn't passed 56. When Stoneman and Vince went, Root joined Cook.
They've averaged 81 in the last 12 months as a partnership. Since Root's debut, no two batsmen have made more runs together. While England's top five has been completed by men who haven't yet been dropped, Cook and Root have tried to bat England into safe positions. All this while Root has been struggling with his conversion issue, and with Cook making just two hundreds in his last 16 matches.
They put on 138 at the MCG, but then Root got a short ball from Pat Cummins, the bat twisted in his hands and he was caught in the deep. Root made 61, and as he got to the rope, he threw his gloves. Cook made 244 not out, in his first non-live innings of the series, and his only score above 40. It gave England a small hope of winning. But the awful Melbourne pitch and the awful England back-up bowlers condemned the match to a draw. The pitch got a reprimand, and England's frontline bowlers who weren't Broad and Anderson deserved likewise.
Between them, they took 24 wickets at 67. Root took two wickets at 39.
Joe Root is batting in the shadows in the first innings at the SCG. He's in control, he has put England into a decent position, and he looks as though he might get his first hundred of the series. But then he receives a loose ball on his pads. A second later he's squatting, looking down at the pitch and when he comes up he's broken. Australia are laughing; they can't believe they've got him, minutes before stumps, with a leg-stump half-volley.
As he departs, the spider-cam gets right in Root's face, he pulls his helmet down over his eyes for privacy.
Around midnight on day four, Joe Root calls the team doctor. All night fluids come out of him at both ends. At 6:45 am, the doctor decides that Root should go to the hospital because of his severe dehydration. At 10:30am, Root - who hasn't eaten or slept - arrives at the ground just as the first ball is bowled.
After 15.2 overs, Moeen is dismissed by Nathan Lyon; Root has to come out to try save the Test.
Think of everything that has come before this. Ben Stokes missing the tour because of a potential assault charge. Jonny Bairstow's ridiculous headbutt moment. Ben Duckett's beer-pouring. Alastair Cook's lack of runs, Stuart Broad's lack of wickets. Moeen's worst tour by an overseas spinner, in the midst of a recent history of terrible tours by overseas spinners to Australia.
Moeen hasn't made many runs either. Root's fast bowlers have been slow; his slow bowler has been inaccurate. England haven't made enough runs; they haven't taken enough wickets. And five times Root has got himself in, and five times Root hasn't made it to a hundred. All this while Australia has goaded, mocked, sledged and bounced his team. On and off the field.
Now Root has to go back out to bat when he's doing the two-orifice shuffle with a series lost weeks ago.
At first glance, it didn't look like Root was entering the ground. There was no boyish energy, or purpose in his strides. He looked stiff and broken, like one of the English seamers after their several days of bowling. He could barely do his warm-ups.
Root reaches his fifty with an inside-edge through leg gully, he raises his bat, but he gets no real satisfaction from the moment. For a while now he's been battling his inner demons to convert to hundreds, now he's battling his body.
Soon afterwards, Root is bent at the waist, leaning on his bat for support, his legs straight, his body crooked. He looks terrible, and the umpires see this and go to ask him if he's okay. He gets down on the ground for a minute; he looks almost unable to stand. A few minutes later he calls for a drink; when it arrives he gets down on one knee to sip it. Bairstow comes over for moral support; he offers a glove punch, Root barely hits his hand.
Upon resumption, he runs a three - why Bairstow didn't tell him one was enough is not clear. He ends up metres from the pitch, looking like he's not even sure where he is. After he completes it he's squatting at the non-striker's end repeatedly. Then again leaning over, using his bat to stand up. He makes it to lunch - which took 14.4 overs in temperatures over 30 degrees. It's not clear how.
At lunch Root is told by the team doctor to get some rest. When it's obvious he's going to fall asleep, they take him to the physio room and turn off the lights. He doesn't wake to go back out after lunch; the doctor decides to let him sleep. Wickets fall, but the decision stays.
James Anderson, the No. 11, is out in the middle. He's facing Cummins bowling around the wicket at his throat while the Barmy Army sing "mighty mighty England". When he's out, after realising he can't review his decision, he looks around and waits to see if Root is coming out to bat.
With the series lost, England wonder what the point of Root batting would be. Anderson gets the message and turns to shake the Australians' hands. While Root sleeps, his Ashes nightmare is finally over.