England learn from the ghost of Adelaide past
It turns out that there really was a ghost in the machine as England's cricketers surged to a victory that their captain, Andrew Strauss, acknowledged was the most comprehensive and complete that he has known in the course of his two-year reign. Not even the loss of Stuart Broad to a stomach injury, nor the threat of an apocalyptic downpour that eventually hit Adelaide at 2.05pm and would have wiped out the final session and a half of the match, could halt a team this tanked up with intent.
"If you think of the way we started the game, to bowl Australia out for 245 was an outstanding effort on a flat wicket, then we didn't take our foot off the pedal," said Strauss after the match. "The way the batters went about it, Cooky and Kevin [Pietersen] in particular were outstanding, and we never gave them a look in the game. We're very pleased about what we've done, especially on the back of the last couple of days at Brisbane. We've got some great momentum in the series and we've got to keep it going."
Despite the magnitude of the triumph, Strauss's words remained laced with the same caution that England have been displaying since they arrived in Perth back in October. The team's confidence throughout has been tangible, but other than that they've given nothing whatsoever away - no tasty soundbites that could leave them hostages to fortune, no wild declarations of superiority that might rile Australia into raising their game. That is because, after the trauma they experienced on this very ground four years ago, they've learned never to take any scenario for granted ever again.
"We know this game of cricket, and we know it's got a horrible way of biting you if pat yourself on the back too much," said Strauss. "It's a five-match series and what you do in the first two matches only counts for so much. The only time we can say [it's over] is when we've won the Ashes, which we won't be doing for a while yet. We need to make sure we don't take our foot off the pedal, because we know Australia will come back at us hard, and if there's any way back into the series, they will take it."
Six of the men who routed Australia in this match played at Adelaide in December 2006, where they watched their early prospects of victory recede to the likelihood of a comfortable draw, only for Shane Warne to steal in on the final morning and inflict a defeat so traumatic that it confirmed at a stroke the inevitability of their 5-0 whitewash. It was thought at the time that the match would haunt that generation of players for evermore, and so it has proven. Except, no-one could have imagined how friendly and motivational the ghost has turned out to be.
"We need to enjoy this and savour it, because it was a special victory for us," said Strauss. "In some ways this exorcised some of the demons from four years ago here. The good thing about last time is that we realised, no matter what sort of position you're in here in Adelaide, don't count your chickens. We thought back then after putting on a good score we were in a great position to win the game; then we thought we were in a pretty good position just to draw it; then, suddenly we'd lost it.
"This time we realised once we got our noses in front we had to make it count, keep digging deep right through to the end. As we saw, even in this last innings, Australia came back at us yesterday. The conventional wisdom was saying 'it's turning a lot, it's just a matter of time'. But you've got to earn the right to win a Test match, and I was very pleased we were able to do that."
It was a crushing display from England that, in terms of mere numbers on the scorecard, could have been a mirror image of the demolition jobs that Australia themselves used to inflict back in the day - most particularly on their triumphant tours of 1989 and 1993 when they were still on the upward curve of their ascent to world domination, and therefore reserved their most thrilling displays of machismo for their biennial mismatches with the hapless Poms.
At Old Trafford in 1989, where England's first-innings 260 was mown down by Australia's follow-up 447, or at Lord's in 1993, where 632 for 4 declared was enough to secure an innings victory, even when a key fast bowler, Craig McDermott, went lame with a twisted gut, the defining factor was the unrelenting wave of contributors to the cause. Four of Australia's top six averaged more than 70 in 1989; every man in the top seven scored at least one hundred in 1993. And England, bewildered by the ferocity of their opponents, blundered their way through 29 and 24 players respectively.
It's still early days in this series, but that sort of gulf is beginning to appear between these two teams. Australia limited themselves to two bowling changes from Brisbane, but with Katich's injury and the sheer ineffectiveness of their attack, more selectorial juggling is expected for Perth, a match that England will enter boasting four players who currently average 121 or more, and a captain, Andrew Strauss, who has somehow been their lowest run-maker in each innings they've played, despite himself making 110 at the Gabba.
Australia at the turn of the 1990s were also motivated by humiliation. Allan Border's approach to the 1989 tour is the stuff of legend - as he blanked David Gower, the captain with whom he'd been too matey in defeat four years earlier, and packed his team with battlers who had also endured the humiliation of losing the Ashes on home soil in 1986-87. Men such as David Boon, Steve Waugh, Merv Hughes and Geoff Marsh, who would go on to become the core of a world-beating outfit.
England's motivation in this series has been hard at times to second-guess, harder certainly than the blunt f-you attitude that Border instilled in his men. Their stated goal is to become the No. 1 side in the world, a handily intangible concept that allows them to sidestep any question of seeking revenge, but they would not be human if they did not wish to rub Australia's noses in the dirt, and humiliate them in the manner that they failed to do in 2009, when the Aussies were able to point to the statistics and say, with six of the top seven series run-scorers and all three of the leading wicket-takers, that they remained in the fight all the way.
This time, however, it feels different. From the meticulous planning that's gone into the trip, to the effortless dominance that has been exerted since the third day of the series, England look primed to cut the Aussies to the quick. And if next week at Perth, they do enough to ensure the retention of the urn, then they will look back on Adelaide and recognise that, sometimes, rock-bottom is the only place from which to begin the long march back to the summit.
"The best feeling is walking into the dressing room having won this Test match," said England's man of the match, Pietersen. "Four years ago was a very, very horrible dressing room to walk into - a very quiet dressing room, a very negative dressing room and not as united as the dressing room is at the moment. Individual performances add to a team victory, and I think the team victory today is incredible, it's the best feeling no matter who takes the wickets or gets the runs.
"It's a victory in Australia," he added. "I haven't had one, Straussy hasn't had one in Test match cricket. It's a great feeling but we're not going to get complacent because we know as soon as complacency sets in, it bites you. The good thing that English cricket has been doing in the last few months is we haven't been complacent. We've been on our jobs."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.