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

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