Not a bad way to wake up ! Thanks for all the great support Australia! Ashes memories last forever! pic.twitter.com/xFOmSxNOk7— Darren Lehmann (@darren_lehmann) January 6, 2014
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Fittingly, the end came not with a bang but with a scamper.
It would have been something of an injustice had England limped to stumps tonight with a couple of rabbits left in the hutch, and the final coat of whitewash to be applied tomorrow morning in front of a handful of souls who weren’t required back at work after their restive festive season.
But that’s what looked likely when tea was taken today, with the full house of largely pink-clad spectators at the SCG believing that England would limp through to stumps given they had survived the previous 94 minutes to post a scoreline of 3-87.
While more than aware of England’s capacity to self-destruct, Michael Clarke’s team doubtless shared the consensus view that seven Test wickets in a session was an enticing prospect but an unlikely ambition.
Even though a majority of those seven had regularly capitulated with barely a yelp in the preceding four Tests.
The only ones, it soon became apparent, who refused to believe that England carried the desire, the skill and the ticker to take the fifth Commonwealth Bank Ashes Test into a fourth day were England.
How else to explain the carnage that unfolded in the 53 minutes after tea when the tourists lost 7-79 in the space of 10.4 overs to hand Australia only the third five-nil Ashes clean sweep in the nations' 136-year Test cricket history, and perhaps the most emphatic of that trio.
Certainly, the manner in which Clarke’s men have relentlessly and remorselessly hunted down and destroyed their quarry in every outing of this watershed summer has left Ricky Ponting’s star-studded unit of 2006-07 looking positively benevolent by comparison.
And while Warwick Armstrong’s team of 1920-21 was renowned for playing in the Big Ship’s uncompromising fashion, that was achieved against a country that was still bleeding badly from the impact of the Great War.
Alastair Cook’s ensemble of 2013-14 can plead no such mitigation, and as this afternoon’s storyline rightly revealed, they have been outplayed, out-thought and outfoxed at every turn.
It seems risible that the tourists arrived in Australia weeks before the opening Test armed with a battery of tall purpose-picked fast bowlers to exploit the Australians’ well-documented batting frailties and a 70-page recipe book to ensure all stayed healthy of body as well as fit of mind.
Such was their state of disrepair when the final wicket fell today to hand Australia a 281-run win – and the novelty of knowing that for the first time in a five-Test Ashes series they had taken all 100 England wickets on offer – rumours persist they may be evacuated on an air ambulance rather than aboard a commercial flight back to the UK.
For Clarke’s men, the celebration that ensued when the skipper triumphantly snatched the final edge that flew from tailender Boyd Rankin’s bat at 4.23pm was as joyfully spontaneous as can be expected when the fate of the urn had been determined three weeks earlier, and the match result obvious for more than a day.
That’s because there was no doubt the pre-series underdogs would sweep all five Tests from tea on day two of this outing when England was dismissed 171 runs in arrears on the first innings.
By the time Australia had finished toying with the hapless England attack shortly after lunch today, and opener Chris Rogers had completed his second century in as many games to crown an inspirational career comeback story, the visitors’ victory target was set at 448.
A nonsense, clarly, when record books showed the highest successful fourth innings run chase at the SCG was Australia’s 288 against South Africa eight years earlier when Ricky Ponting was in his pomp.
And that the highest-ever last innings total – England’s brave but ultimately futile 411 in pursuit of 605 during its 1923-24 tour – was achieved during a week-long Test (that included two rest days) and saw the tourists bat across three days.
Doubts as to whether the current incarnation of an England Test team could occupy the crease for three sessions proved disappointingly accurate when Cook’s men capitulated in just 31.4 overs and a tick under two-and-a-half hours in bright sunshine this afternoon.
Which scarcely raises hopes they will be more competitive when the first of five 50-over internationals kicks off in Melbourne next weekend.
While Mitchell Johnson ensured his honour as player of the series with another three wickets today – including the wicket of Cook in just his second over to begin England’s freefall – to lift his series tally to 37 at 13.97, it was Ryan Harris who destroyed what remained of the tourists’ batting hopes with 5-25.
That gave him remarkable match figures of 8-61 from almost 24 overs, which underscored one of the defining differences to emerge between the teams over the course of the summer – an ability to bowl consistently in the correct areas to restrict opponents’ scoring and ultimately get them out.
Harris was named man of the match in a match that his ageing and notoriously fragile body was not supposed to allow him to play
Renowned for bowling a ‘heavy ball’ – that is, with pace off the pitch that hits the bat disarmingly hard – Harris proved that assessment when he snapped the bat of England opener Michael Carberry clean in half.
Carberry, England’s top scorer in an innings that would have been even more disastrous if not for some lusty late hitting from Ben Stokes (32) and Stuart Broad (42), pushed forward to a delivery from Harris that hit high near the bat’s splice and left the blade dangling only by dint of the manufacturer’s adhesive logo decal.Some might argue that the image it conveyed – of a relentless Australian pace attack leaving England’s bats hanging by the merest thread – pretty much encapsulated a series that will be celebrated long and hard, but ultimately remembered as one of the most one-sided of recent Ashes history.
YOUR INVITE: Celebration with Australia! When: 11am Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Where: Sydney Opera House, North Boardwalk #TheUrnReturns RT— CA Digital Media (@CricketAus) January 5, 2014
Absolutely unreal from ALL the Aussie boys.. Great to see the joy on their faces lifting that urn!! The 3 quicks, class and a half above!!— Mitch Starc (@mstarc56) January 5, 2014