Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day December 16, 2013

England sailing on a sinking vessel

James Anderson flogged, Kevin Pietersen throwing away his wicket and Stuart Broad hobbling around painted a picture of defeat as the Ashes drifted away from England

Like the last moan of a boxer, the dying moments at Little Big Horn or the final descent of Titanic, there was an air of desperation to England throughout the fourth day in Perth.

Images of defeat hung all around. A side that have won the last three Ashes series, have reached No. 1 in the Test rankings and enjoyed, by England's not so lofty standards, great success, knew their time was up. They knew they were beaten. They knew, as every sensible person watching did, that the result of this match and this series had been decided long ago. The rest was just administration.

Oh, they tried to ward off defeat. They tried. It was just that, on a basic level, they knew that their opponent was stronger. Like Frank Bruno knew when he fought Mike Tyson. Like Tim Henman knew when he played Pete Sampras. Like England knew when they played Australia in the 90s or West Indies in the 80s.

How that situation has arisen is a question to ponder in the coming days. How a side that, barely weeks ago, was able to win a competitive series 3-0, has sunk to this level - a level where defeat has been inevitable since the second day in Adelaide - is hard to fathom. Certainly Australia are much-improved, but they have been pushing at an open door in charging at this England side. Joyless, faithless and jaded, the self-belief followed the enjoyment out of the dressing room door of this England team some time ago.

Among the carnage, there were a few images that stood out; a few images that summed up the unequal struggle and the mood within the England camp.

The dismissal of Alastair Cook

It was, by any standards, a fine delivery. Ryan Harris, with his perfect wrist position, his bull-like strength and determination to make up for lost time in a career that, but for injury, might have seen him rated as a "great" already, gained just a hint of inswing to Alastair Cook with the first delivery of England's second innings, before the ball left him slightly and took the off bail. It was beautiful bowling.

Perhaps Cook could have played it better. Perhaps, if his feet were moving more fluently and his bat coming down straighter, he would not have been squared to such a degree and his head and hands would be better aligned. Opening batsmen can only console themselves with the thought that they have been on the receiving end of a magnificent delivery for so long. The best hardly believe in "unplayable". The best get themselves into a position where they can play just about every ball.

But it was the expression on Cook's face that will linger in the memory. It was a look of horror. It told a tale of mental torment and despair. A 100th Test dream turned nightmare. It was the look of defeat.

The mauling of James Anderson

The sight of James Anderson being thrashed for 28 in an over just might, from an England perspective, prove the defining moment of this series. For the man who, not so long ago, was considered England's spearhead and gem, to concede a world record-equalling amount of runs from a Test over spoke volumes about the balance of power in this series. The man who troubled Australia throughout the 2010-11 success had been reduced to cannon fodder.

He should probably not have been bowling. Having played such a huge role in England's successes in recent years - MS Dhoni rated him "the difference between the sides" when England won in India a year ago - he should probably be used as a strike bowler; his skills and his fitness preserved for when matches can be shaped, rather than flogged and disdained in games that have already gone.

But his captain was desperate and felt he had nowhere to turn. With Stuart Broad injured and other options unappealing, Anderson was asked, once again, to deliver another spell for his team. The man who has, since the start of the 2010-11 series, bowled more deliveries in Test cricket than any seamer from any nation was, as a result of his fitness, his consistency and his skill, punished, mauled and humiliated. He deserved better.

The dismissal of Kevin Pietersen

Magnificent and maddening, brilliant and infuriating, Kevin Pietersen is hero and villain wrapped in one. With a series to save and a job to do, most batsmen would have taken the opportunity offered by the placement of a long-on to push for singles and occupy the crease.

But not KP. This was the man who responded to England's challenge at The Oval in 2005 with a barrage of hooks and pulls and drives and flicks that could, on another day, have ended in the hands of outfielders. It was the man who, in Mumbai in 2012, responded to the dominance of India's spinners with one of the most perfect, unorthodox innings the game has seen. He has never been governed by convention.

So instead of playing the percentages, instead of taking the safe, sensible option, he tried to hit Nathan Lyon over the man positioned at long-on for the stroke. He had already played the shot once and smashed it into the stand. Perhaps he thought, if he could do so again, he would hit Lyon off his length and disrupt Australia's plans. Perhaps he didn't think at all.

Either way, the end result looked ugly. Pietersen was caught at long-on and Australia hammered another nail into England's coffin. Maybe Pietersen had passed them the hammer.

It is hard to defend such a stroke. But was it worse than Ian Bell's uppercut? Or the hook with which Cook was dismissed in Adelaide? Probably not. But he to whom much is given, much is expected and there are times when Pietersen seems not to make full use of his talents.

England in the field

If fielding is the window to the soul of a side - and it very often is - then England really are a broken, dispirited rabble. There were moments when they resembled slapstick comedians more than finely-tuned athletes. To see a fielder as able as Bell drop a chance a well-trained labrador might have taken was to see a side in obvious disarray.

There were other painful moments. Tim Bresnan took a magnificent, diving catch at long-off only to fall over the boundary. But perhaps the nadir came when Bell and Anderson, as good fielders as England have, demonstrated the depth to which their confidence had fallen by leaving a chance lobbed up by George Bailey to one another. As if the basic failure in discipline and technique was not bad enough, England had to contend with the sight of the Australian dressing room bursting into laugher as the ball fell to earth. England's humiliation was complete.

Stuart Broad in the nets

The sight of Broad hobbling around attempting to practise batting summed up the hopeless situation in which England find themselves. In normal circumstances, Broad might be expected to rest his injured right foot with a view to regaining fitness ahead of the Melbourne Test. But such is his side's plight that he is highly likely to be forced to the crease early on the final day in a last, desperate chance to save this game. With runners no longer allowed and the risk of further injury possible, the move represents a gamble from England. A gamble that has almost no chance of success. But it is the only card England have left to play and as Bob Dylan put it, when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • geoff on December 17, 2013, 6:37 GMT

    Don't worry too much English fans. Aus were supposedly in the same disarray only a few months ago. Cricket is a game of form and momentum, and Aussies were bound to find some after a few horrible seasons. But the normal arrogance will follow, and was already displayed by commentators and players on the 4th day, and the humbled English will fight back agai....... Give Johnson 2 bad tests and there will be calls to drop him again!

  • Steve on December 17, 2013, 3:05 GMT

    Quip, we saw it in England in 2005 when everything, and I mean EVERYTHING went againt the Australians. DRS would have seen a different series result. In 2013 in England, again as soon as Australia looked like a sniff they found some way to lose or get weather interrupted. It's amazing what happens when a team is a little below par, the universe tends to exact an disproportionate toll.

  • Dummy4 on December 17, 2013, 2:31 GMT

    The real problem is that the English have forgotten their traditions - mostly the classic understatement of old. Now they are loud; too eager to praise themselves. Stokes played well for once and immediately he becomes the "next Gary Sobers". Flintoff was greater than even sliced bread; KP the greatest batsman on the planet. Unless they change this new (arrogant) mentality, there is little hope for this team.

  • Mark on December 17, 2013, 1:44 GMT

    @jackiethepen - the oppressive heat could certainly be a factor in England's poor performance, but lets not forget that both teams have batted and fielded in the same heat. Only one of them has completely embarrassed themselves.

  • Orang on December 17, 2013, 0:43 GMT

    George, get real, this article is over the top. Come on, this is only a game, no one died, except some stumps and bails burned by some society ladies 100+ years ago. England may not rise like a phoenix but come back they will----remember the depths of 2006-07 and winning back the Ashes in 2009. Australia's redoubtable fast bowlers are not young although there are many younger but more brittle ones waiting in the wings. Their spin bowling resources are limited, Clarke has a chronio back problem and Haddin can't keep going for much longer. Smith is really not a top-class Test batsman so that leaves Warner, and he is, as they say, a pocket rocket and rockets tend to go off course. So, let's chill, be gracious losers, pat the Aussies on the back, cop a few snarls from the likes of Siddle and move on.

  • David on December 17, 2013, 0:14 GMT

    Also three of the top five, and five of the top 22 batsmen, in terms of balls faced over the last two years.;filter=advanced;orderby=balls_faced;spanmax1=17+Dec+2013;spanmin1=17+Dec+2011;spanval1=span;template=results;type=batting

  • David on December 16, 2013, 23:46 GMT

    Anderson, Broad and Swann really have bowled a lot of overs in recent times - in fact over the last couple of years, all three of them are in the top five international bowlers based on number of overs bowled across all three formats (the other two being spinners Ashwin and Ajmal). Each of the three of them has bowled over 1000 overs. There are only 27 bowlers who have bowled over 500 overs during the same period (three of whom are Bresnan, Finn and Panesar).;filter=advanced;orderby=overs;qualmin1=200;qualval1=overs;spanmax2=16+Dec+2013;spanmin2=16+Dec+2011;spanval2=span;template=results;type=bowling

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2013, 23:18 GMT

    The problem is not that they play too much cricket - the play too little! Looking at fast bowlers, Fred Trueman, John Snow and Bob Willis played FAR more cricket than Jimmy Anderson. They paced themselves when playing first-class games to turn up the wick when playing Tests. The numbers are truly stark - FST sent down 15178 balls in 67 Test and another 84523 in 536 first class games. To date, Jimmy Anderson has sent down 19694 balls in his 89 tests but only a pitiful 12070 from a laughable 71 first-class games...

    The villain is the Central Contracts. There is no chance for today's players to hone their skills, fine tune them and conserve their form for Tests, batsmen as well as bowlers. When they turn out, they do it in the high-pressure arena of international cricket with insufficient preparation. Test players should be available for their counties for at least half the County games - but NOT for the one-day cricket!

  • Krishna on December 16, 2013, 23:16 GMT

    I believe if (and it definitely looks like) England lose this test, they will lose the Ashes no doubt, but the pressure will be off. They could pull one back in the MCG or SCG. On the other hand, if they manage a draw they will still be under pressure and could well lose the series 3-0 or even 4-0. At least a 3-1 margin will look better than a 4-0.

  • David on December 16, 2013, 23:10 GMT

    @Chris Dezso - refreshing candour. If it's baffling for you its frankly embarrassing this side when old pros talk about JA in the same breath as Steyn. He's a canny bowler who has had some great moments when the ball has swung, but you can't be considered great if you average over 26.

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