Shane Warne was getting irritated. He had taken the worst figures of his Test career two days earlier, and now England were not rolling over in their second innings as he thought they might. Even Ian Bell, his bunny, was playing nicely. Both teams had posted first-innings totals in excess of five hundred, and the second Test appeared to be heading for a draw. Warne, remembering a lesson taught him by Allan Border, started to pick fights to get himself going. The night before, he and Michael Clarke had been eating when the film American Pie came on TV, when they perceived a likeness between Bell and a character called the Shermanator.
It was not a flattering comparison. The Shermanator was a goofy, ginger-haired virgin who invented stories about his sex life and attempted to seduce girls by quoting The Terminator. Warne decided to share his observation with Bell, and suggested his opponent did not like it. 'I've been called worse,' said Bell. 'Mate,' sniggered Warne, 'I'm not sure you have.'
If the idea was to get inside Bell's head, it didn't work. He and Andrew Strauss comfortably survived a tricky spell before the close, with England 59 for one; in doing so, they appeared to have ensured that the match would peter out as a draw on the final day. At the post-play press conference, Matthew Hoggard and other England players were able to laugh off Warne's comments. They all seemed in rather good spirits. They had no idea of the trauma that awaited them.
The Adelaide Test was the bore draw that became a once-in-a-generation thriller. England came back superbly from their thrashing at Brisbane, with Paul Collingwood's 206 - the first double hundred by an Englishman in Australia since Wally Hammond in 1928-29 - and Kevin Pietersen's 158 allowing them to declare on 551 for six. During Pietersen's innings, Warne was reduced to bowling defensively into the rough outside leg stump; he ended the innings with figures of one for 167.
"The final morning began serenely. And then it happened: a collapse as shocking and resounding as any in English cricket history"
Ricky Ponting was dropped early in his innings, a relatively straightforward chance for a fielder as good as Ashley Giles, and went on to make another century. 'You can't bring it back… it's gone,' said Giles. 'I'll just spend the next twenty years worrying about it.'
Australia reached 513 and left England facing a tricky stick-or-twist session on the fourth evening. When they got through that for the loss of only their young opener Alastair Cook, the match was all but over with a day to spare.
The final morning began serenely. And then it happened: a collapse as shocking and resounding as any in English cricket history. It started when Warne got a dodgy decision against Strauss, fortune favouring the knave again; then Bell was needlessly run out, and then Pietersen - who had released a book a couple of months earlier in which he said it was impossible for him to be bowled round his legs by Warne - was bowled round his legs by Warne.
That was the moment a walk in the park became a desperate fight for survival. England were rendered strokeless by the situation, not to mention by the wiles of Warne and the reverse swing of Brett Lee. They could barely score a run, and endured the slowest of tortures before eventually being dismissed for a paltry 129 in 73 overs just before tea.
Warne took a respectable four wickets rather than a hatful, but his figures do not reflect his impact. He got inside the England batsmen's heads to such an extent that he dictated the events of an extraordinary day. Australia, left to chase an ostensibly tricky target of 168 against the clock, knocked the runs off with contemptuous ease.
One moment England were 1-0 down in the series, and expecting to have had the better of a draw at Adelaide; the next it was 2-0 and they were mentally shattered. 'I find it difficult to describe just how pissed off I felt,' said Hoggard. 'It changed the lives and careers of quite a few people, especially me,' said the England coach Duncan Fletcher, who resigned a few months later.
After Adelaide, it was somehow inevitable that Glenn McGrath's prediction would come to pass. England started the third Test at Perth well, but were eventually overwhelmed. Adam Gilchrist, no longer in Flintoff's pocket, smacked a staggering century from 57 balls in Australia's second-innings 527 for five.
Flintoff fell to earth spectacularly during the series. He struggled with bat and ball, suffered from depression and found solace in the bottle. Matters came to a head at the World Cup soon afterwards when he capsized a pedalo in the small hours.
The struggles of England's younger players, including Bell, Cook and Jimmy Anderson, were almost as dramatic. Bell played well at times, hitting four half-centuries and using his feet confidently against Warne, yet in Australian eyes he symbolised England's eternal mental fragility. 'Look at that timid little creature Ian Bell,' said the former Australian batsman Stuart Law.
Warne wrote his own script on Boxing Day, taking his 700th Test wicket in front of his home crowd. A now rampant Australia won the fourth Test by an innings and 99 runs, and the first whitewash since 1920-21 was completed at the SCG. It was the final Test for Warne and McGrath, two men who were the definition of the word 'champion'. They saved one of their greatest tricks for last. As they walked off the ground, arms round each other's shoulders, even thousands of Poms had a lump in their throat.
Gentlemen & Sledgers, A History of the Ashes in Quotations and Confrontations, is published by Head of Zeus
Rob Smyth is a freelance writer in the UK