Awful Australia sink to new depths
Australia's favourite word of the series has been "disappointing". A month ago, after the Adelaide defeat, it was appropriate for summing up the mood, but with every bad day since it has barely covered the magnitude of the slide. Apart from a handful of highlights in Perth, the Australians have been waiting to hit rock bottom. The pebble hasn't landed yet.
Each morning the home supporters have headed to the various grounds hoping for better and seen much worse. In Brisbane England were 1 for 517 and Australia were 3 for 2 in Adelaide. At the WACA they slipped to 5 for 69 and at the MCG they were all out for 98 on the opening day. Today, when they had promised to fight hard early, they allowed England to score 644, their highest total in Australia.
Watching the bowling over the first half of the day was as soul-sapping for the home supporters as seeing the batting in the afternoon. England requested the extra half an hour in an effort to finish the contest in four days, but they will have to wait until tomorrow to sign off the series. Australia held on to be 7 for 213, heading for a record third innings loss for the series.
One of the many problems with this team is there are patches of promise followed by hours of misery. England were 5 for 226 when Paul Collingwood was dismissed on the third day, but Australia let them recover and then dominate to the point where the efforts of the home bowlers were treated as casually as throw-downs. Graeme Swann, the No.10, was the main aggressor when Mitchell Johnson was thrashed for 35 runs in two overs. Just a fortnight ago Johnson was a world-beater, but he has been battered once again.
Noble draws are not a concept Australia really understands, so Shane Watson came out in a boundary-hungry mood, pulling his first delivery for four and speeding to 38 at almost a run-a-ball. Such is the team's state that Watson is its second-most valuable player behind Michael Hussey. The side will take every start he gets, while praying that one day he can start to add to his two Test centuries. Blaming him is not fair when he is one of the few consistent ones.
Watson is a much-improved cricketer but talk of him being a captaincy contender cannot be taken seriously as long as he continues to make such basic errors. In Melbourne he ran out Phillip Hughes and this time Watson's daydream cost him his wicket. After dawdling over a single, he did not bother to look at Hughes when he came back for a second until he realised they were both at the same end.
Smart cricket is not a feature of this team. Bowlers let the pressure off with legside deliveries or short ones outside off, and the changing fields make it harder for struggling fast bowlers to find their rhythm. Batsmen insist on following balls angling away even though they know it increases the risk of an edge. Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke all nicked ones that were leaving them today.
For a brief period, if you squinted really hard, it was possible to glimpse the future when Clarke and Khawaja were putting on 65. The captain was confident, successfully playing his shots despite his run drought, and Khawaja was graceful and assured. Saving the game would have still required a miracle, but watching them was fun and, most importantly, a distraction from the overall direction of the match and the series.
More disappointment came when the duo's starts were not converted. A century was needed but Clarke delivered 41 and Khawaja 21. Khawaja is new and has been encouraging in his first two innings, while Clarke repeats his flashy mistakes. Clarke stubbed the bat angrily into the ground after nicking James Anderson. England's bowlers have been excellent throughout this series, but Clarke used to be so much better than them. He has a lot to consider before the next Test campaign against Sri Lanka in August, including a switch back to No.5.
Hussey has been Australia's man for a crisis but after holding them together for the first three Tests he has lost power. He was disappointed to cut Tim Bresnan to gully. Brad Haddin, with another miss at No.6, felt the same when caught behind playing an ugly pull to Chris Tremlett. Johnson was very disappointed when he was bowled first ball.
So were the Australian spectators who had already started to leave, searching for more suitable words to describe the performances throughout an Ashes-losing summer. Dreadful, awful and woeful don't convey the depths to which Australia have fallen. Thankfully it's nearly over.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo