Joe Root says that he will not be considering his position as Test captain until the end of England's tour of Australia, and instead pledged to "put some pride back into the badge" in the final two matches at Sydney and Hobart, after a humiliating conclusion to the decisive third Test at Melbourne.
England's Ashes challenge ended with their third defeat inside 12 days of action, in little more than an hour's play at the MCG, as Australia's debutant quick Scott Boland finished with figures of 6 for 7 in four overs to rout England for 68 - their 13th score of 200 or less in 29 completed Test innings in 2021.
England's innings-and-14-run defeat was their ninth of the calendar year, equalling a record set by Bangladesh in 2003, while two more scores of 0 on the final morning earned the team a share of another unwanted record, as they finished with 54 ducks for the year, equal with the England side of 1998.
Root once again top-scored for England with 28 on the final morning, to finish 2021 with 1708 runs at 61.00 - the third-highest tally in a single year, behind Mohammad Yousuf (1788 in 2006) and Viv Richards (1710 in 1976). However, no one else in the side managed more than Rory Burns' haul of 530, and even Extras (412) contributed more than the third-most prolific batter in the squad, Jonny Bairstow (391).
"Everyone in that dressing room is gutted," Root said after the match. "That's not a good enough performance. We all know that. We need to put some pride back into the badge and make sure we come away from this tour with something. It's as simple as that."
Despite the speed of England's demise on the third morning, Root insisted that all had not been lost when play resumed with England on a sickly 31 for 4, in the wake of a pulsating new-ball burst from Australia's quicks on Monday evening. "You turn up today and you walk out with Ben Stokes and you feel like anything's possible," Root said. "We're bitterly disappointed to find ourselves in this position."
Stokes, however, fell in the fifth over of the morning, bowled by Mitchell Starc for 11, whereupon Boland added to his two wickets in his solitary over on the second evening to claim four more in his next 15 balls. Cameron Green then applied the finishing touch by bowling James Anderson for 2 to condemn England to their 12th defeat in their last 13 Tests in Australia.
Root himself has played in 11 of those losses, and acknowledged that the standards of England's domestic red-ball cricket were not currently good enough to prepare county batters for the challenge of competing on equal terms in Australian conditions, let alone elsewhere in the world.
"I'd say that the best 18 players from the county game are definitely on this tour," Root said. "There's some very talented players within this squad and we have to find ways of upskilling ourselves and each other, and managing pressure points within the game better.
"Unfortunately, where the game is at in our country right now, the only place you can really learn that is in the hardest environment," he added. "For what is quite a young batting group, they're having to learn out here. The environment that they're coming from, it's not readying them well enough for Test cricket.
"It's a very difficult place, with everything that surrounds Test matches and the different conditions and environments. If you're not ready going into it, it makes it very difficult to improve in that environment."
As a member of the England team that was humiliated at the 2015 World Cup, also in Australia, Root acknowledged that this defeat may well need to be viewed in a similar light, given that England's group-stage exit from that campaign was the single biggest factor in the ECB's subsequent white-ball focus that culminated in their 2019 victory.
"You look back at 2015 and the reset that happened in white-ball cricket, maybe that's something that needs to be had in our red-ball game as well," Root said. "But that is a long conversation that I should probably have with you guys another time.
"More than anything, we have to stay very mentally resilient," he added. "Just keep working very hard at our games, keep looking at ways to get better. And we have to make sure that when we get our opportunities to get ahead of the game, we take them.
"It's bitterly disappointing to be 3-0 down but there are still two Test matches to go. We have to try and make sure we come away from this tour with a couple of wins."
In leading England for the 59th time in this Test, Root drew level with his predecessor, Alastair Cook, as England's most-capped captain. But his 24th defeat is two more than Cook oversaw, and though he also holds the record for victories as England captain (27), he is also the first man to oversee two losing tours of Australia in more than 100 years.
However, when asked if he felt the time had come to hand over the leadership to someone else - potentially his deputy Ben Stokes - Root insisted that with the series not yet over, it would be "wrong to look past that".
"As a player, you talk about the next hour, or the next session, or the very next ball and managing that to the best of your abilities," he said. "That applies to me as well, as captain of this team.
"I'm in the middle of a very important series. My energy has to be all about trying to win the next game. I can't be selfish and start thinking about myself.
"That's a big part of captaincy. You've got to ready the players, and try to instil that belief in every single one of your team and your squad. More than ever now, going into the last two games."