Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.
What a wretched, agonising, excruciating tour this has been for us, as England supporters – quite probably, the worst of all time.
Dreadful as 2006/07 was, at least it was at the hands of a very fine Australian team. 2001 was also hugely gutting – after going in to the series with such confidence and form, only to find it was the same old story against Steve Waugh and co.
But none of that compares to the horrors we are currently witnessing.
At some point within the next forty-eight hours, we are going to surrender the Ashes to the weakest Australian team in living memory.
This is a time of great sorrow. Not only have we conceded possession of all we hold dear, but we have been humiliated by a rag-tag and makeshift team of hacks, journeymen, and Michael Clarke.
Worst of all, there has been no respite from our misery whatsoever – – not even a moment’s let-up. Ever since the Haddin-Johnson partnership at Brisbane, absolutely everything has gone wrong.
Even in the darkest days of the calamitous Ashes tours of the 1990s and 2000s, we always managed to scrape a handful of consolation prizes – a few morsels to salve the wounds to our pride and feel better about ourselves.
In 2002/3 we had Michael Vaughan’s glittering trio of centuries. Even in 2006/7 we had the Colly-KP partnership at Adelaide, and Monty’s Perth five-fer.
This time, nothing. At all. No English centuries. No counter-attacking partnerships. No demon bowling spells. De riens. Not a single glimmer of light to allay the relentlessly soul-destroying bleakness.
We have not won a single day of this series – and it’s hard to think of more than a couple of sessions in which we’ve had the upper hand.
Each night we go to bed – part dreading the morning’s scorecard, but part still hoping that – somehow – something will at last change, and for once, dawn will bring good news. Aren’t we at least allowed one good day?
And then when we wake, we are almost too scared to look at the score. We tell ourselves not to be so ridiculously pessimistic. And when we finally summon the courage to click on the webpage, the brutal truth leaves us poleaxed.
The scorecard is even worse than our worst case scenario. We have scored even fewer runs than we feared. Australia have an even bigger lead than we could have imagined.
It’s been like this night after night, morning after morning. And today’s play just put the lid on it.
In a way, it was all too predictable. We all knew that resuming at four wickets down meant that two wickets could easily fall soon after play – which they did – leaving the tail exposed to be swept away – which it was.
Notwithstanding the collapses at Brisbane and Adelaide, this was the most depressing day of all. Which is no mean statement. It’s one thing to be undone by a hostile and brilliant spell of fast-bowling, or a masterpiece century; quite another to just be methodically unravelled and stripped bare.
But I don’t share the anger which is being directed at the England players by some supporters. On the BBC online coverage, a Laurie Armitt e-mailed to say: “Time for KP, Prior and Swann to be dropped even if it is temporary. It might make them see that they have to perform regularly”.
What a load of nonsense. Do you actually think KP, Prior and Swann *want* to be under-performing? That they don’t care about their failures? That they’re not trying?
From what I can see, our players care very much, and are trying as hard as they can. But their loss of form is beyond their control. And, rightly or wrongly, they somehow cannot summon the levels of intensity and sustained, controlled, aggression which the Australians are.
I’ve suggested before that the back-to-back series, with us touring for the second half, has been a big factor. Some of you scoffed. But I stand by it. I’m surprised this factor hasn’t cropped up more in the analysis.
Losing all three tosses, losing Jonathan Trott, and now losing our best bowler – Stuart Broad – hasn’t helped.
What happened to Ryan Harris’s injuries? And Michael Clarke’s bad back?
Much of this will sound like sour grapes – and like I’m feeling sorry for myself. But if as England fans we’re not entitled to self-pity at the moment, when are we?
Supporting a sports team is not about fairness to the opposition, or a rational analysis. It’s about raw and base emotions. Right now we could hardly be hurting more – so don’t expect us to raise a glass of champagne to the Australians.