Australia's black page
In Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, the death of the kindly parson Yorick is not described in words. Instead it is depicted through the use of a completely blacked-out page. Sterne's novel was a satirical masterwork of digressions, ironies and multilayered messages, but the simplicity and starkness of that page has lived on in the memories of all who read the tale.
On day one at Trent Bridge, Australia's cricketers set out to write the script of their Ashes salvation. Instead they were the guilty parties in an episode that could comfortably be depicted after the fashion of Sterne. To be bowled out in 18.3 overs, the briefest first innings of all Test matches played, was indeed a black page of the nation's cricketing history. It was so grim as to be unforgettable for all those cricketers involved, all spectators present, and all followers tracking the scores even loosely online.
There can be no escaping the fact that the first morning in Nottingham will serve as a major repudiation of the way Australia approach their cricket in conditions that, while challenging, are no more treacherous than those any opening batsman has a right to expect. It may be argued by the Australians that it was "just one of those days when the ball did just enough", but it never did so much as to be impossible for players showing the necessary knowhow.
After the defeats at Cardiff and Edgbaston, Australia's brains trust took the view that the best thing they could do was put the results to one side and concentrate on positive reinforcement. On arrival in Nottingham, the team indulged in a high-spirited long lunch, and on match eve an equally chipper breakfast. A fielding session at the ground was punctuated by lashings of banter and laughter, smiles and giggles.
Unfortunately for Darren Lehmann, the coach, and his batting assistant, Michael Di Venuto, it was abundantly clear at Trent Bridge that this team needs much more than reassuring words about having made a massive score just two weeks ago at Lord's. What it needs, arguably, is a bigger kick up the backside than can be provided by a defeat. Edgbaston and its implications plainly did not make a difference to how Trent Bridge was to be approached.
Take the question of how to play challenging conditions. Decision-making had been highlighted before the match, both by Di Venuto within the team and Ricky Ponting outside it. Bats had to be used in firm defence or equally sure-footed leaves of the moving ball. Aggression was to be about attitude, not shot choice. Most importantly, the batsmen had to be able to hang tough in periods of difficulty, finding a way to survive even when it did not look pretty to be doing so. The Australians, Di Venuto said, had to be "a little bit tougher".
The procession of dismissals, and the shots that interspersed them however briefly, was anything but tough. Chris Rogers edged a good one early, though once again found himself confounded by a bowler angling the ball in and seaming it away from around the wicket. Steve Smith got himself moving with a pair of neat shots but was squared up by a ball he might have left. Shaun Marsh walked out into a drive that was always likely to result in an edge. Adam Voges pushed with similarly hard hands and stretching gait.
That was five down, and the match arguably tossed away inside its first five overs. But the centrepiece of this grotesque gallery was to be Michael Clarke himself. Oddly enough, Clarke had looked closer to touch than in most other innings this series, as though a second ball French cut past off stump had told him his luck was in. There was one fine pull shot, and feet moving more freely - perhaps through adrenaline. A hundred here would certainly have allowed Clarke to repay a team that had carried him for this tour.
Broad, though, has developed something of a hex over Clarke, afflicting his thoughts even when not peppering him with the short balls that first allowed England's fast bowler to establish supremacy over Australia's captain. His first ball to Clarke was wide and going further, but of a very risky length for the drive. In Australia, Clarke could have played the line and flayed it through the covers. In England, he edged wretchedly to Cook. Clarke walked off ashen faced - the only Ashes he will be taking home with him.
As so often happens for Australia, the lower order then managed to cobble together almost twice as many runs as the top six, though 39 as against 21 is a paltry no matter how the pie is cut. Australia's bowlers fought for a little longer than their batting counterparts, but did so with a mounting sense of dejection as conditions eased and the sun emerged over the East Midlands. The last man Nathan Lyon's crisp straight drive was the first and only boundary forward of square all innings, but far from the last of the day. England soon demonstrated this was no demonic pitch.
At the changeover, so soon as to allow England to face three overs before lunch, Lehmann walked out to the middle with gloves and bat. Peering at the pitch, tapping it down and shadow batting a tad, he looked as though he was readying himself to play on Mars. Back home, some of the less enlightened showed similar scepticism towards the pitch. This debacle was not the pitch's fault; rather the fault of the batsmen for making it look that way.
Put simply, Australia failed totally to adapt to the prevailing conditions. They failed to adapt because they did not even try to. They did not even try to because they think it is on Australian pitches that their bread is buttered. They think that because hometown victories have given them the appearance of heroes. They think pitches like Centurion, Cape Town and Lord's will turn up often enough to allow them to win away from home. They think this will all blow over.
But day one at Trent Bridge is not a stain that will wash out easily. The dismissal of Ponting's team for 98 on Boxing Day 2010 was the end of Ponting, the coach Tim Nielsen and an entire selection panel. The dismissal for 60 in Nottingham may well be the end for Clarke, Lehmann and another selection panel. A new method must be found overseas, or this will keep happening. If it does, Australia will never again be the world's best team. Just the authors of more black pages.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig