It was fitting that England lost this Test on Monday, not Sunday, as had seemed eminently possible for much of the match. That they did meant their latest defeat down under came exactly 4,000 days since their last Test win on Australian soil.
Much has changed since January 7, 2011, when England won in Sydney. That was their third innings victory of a famous series in which they made scores of 500 four times.
Their leading wicket-taker from that series is still playing, but it is ancient history. Their last 12 Tests in this country have brought 11 defeats – all of them by a chunky margin – and a single draw, on a Melbourne pitch so dead it might have taken 4,000 days to produce a result.
In this defeat, by 275 runs, on the final day, there was at least a fight, with Jos Buttler digging in for 26 from 207 balls, his second-longest Test innings, which took England within 25 overs of a draw. Having batted so well, Buttler became the ninth wicket to fall in remarkable, tragicomic fashion, treading on his stumps off Jhye Richardson, looking to dab a strike-sealing single.
Four overs later, Richardson knocked over Jimmy Anderson to complete his first Test five-wicket haul, and complete Australia’s victory. England have never come back from 2-0 down to win the Ashes before.
At least Buttler had taken them into the final session, at least the floodlights were turned on in this day-night match, and at least England made Australia think; Steve Smith used eight bowlers, including himself.
The trouble was the previous four days, which had left them too much to do. Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of this loss was the familiarity of it all. England have thought and theorised about this series for years, and Joe Root had promised to do things differently.
Yet here England were picking four modestly-paced new ball bowlers in a horribly unbalanced attack. They dropped catches and took a wicket with a no-ball. They collapsed on a blameless pitch. There were eerie similarities with the defeat on this ground four years ago, when they just would not pitch the pink ball up.
Adelaide felt like a city of opportunity for England five days ago. Josh Hazlewood pulled up after Brisbane, then South Australia’s Covid-19 regulations did for Pat Cummins. There went Australia’s captain, and best two bowlers.
Since, little has gone right for England to the point that their best seamer ended up bowling three overs of off-spin because their captain was in hospital having his nether regions scanned and this, the fifth day, was perhaps the most dignified of the defeat. The damage had been done on the previous four.
Buttler’s great ally was Chris Woakes, with whom he shared a partnership of 61 from 190 balls. This was Buttler, with his Test career on the line, and Woakes, who may still have played his final overseas Test despite top-scoring with 44. Woakes is the only England batter to have made it to double figures in all four innings this series; the trouble is, batting is only a small part of the Woakes package, and he offered little threat with the ball (that is partly because he should only play when the new ball is available).
When they came together in the first hour, all hope was gone. Most of it went with Root, hit amidships then caught behind on the fourth evening. Ollie Pope lasted just seven balls, and Ben Stokes could not manage a miracle this time.
Stokes was lbw to Nathan Lyon, on review, which was always a concern. Pope, though, is providing a far greater headache for England, and looks likely to be dropped for the Third Test on Boxing Day. Mitchell Starc angled the ball across him, and he could not resist a fiddle.
Pope’s first-class record for Surrey is prodigal – average 73 – but at Test level, he is failing. This innings took his average below 30 after 22 matches. It feels almost inconceivable that he will not put this right at some stage; but we have said the same about other young stars, too.
On a pair, Buttler was badly missed by wicketkeeper Alex Carey, who stood leaden-footed as the ball flew between him and first slip David Warner when Starc found the edge. A second duck to go with three dropped chances would have capped a dismal game for Buttler.
Woakes was offered more scoring opportunities, especially on the drive, and looked in good order. But, after 97 balls at the crease, Richardson found a beautiful nip-backer that castled him. Ollie Robinson survived for 15 minutes with Buttler, but was caught at slip off Lyon.
Through all this stood Buttler, the owner of a 46-ball ODI century, leaving, defending, knuckling down for his gutsiest Test innings. It proved in vain, but will not be forgotten.