England are collapse specialists but Hobart ignominy sets new low | Tanya Aldred
At least it was quick. The final ignominy over in less than two hours, from Rory Burns to Ollie Robinson with barely time for a scratch and a sniff: 10 wickets for 56 runs in 22 overs. Out of a paper bag into the ashes.
It was Mark Wood’s face that said it all. He’d just produced the best bowling of his Test career, six for 37, a high-class bouncefest to haul England back into the match by their gammy toenails, short-pitched menace with a smile, hurling that woodchip body into the unwilling Tasmanian ground. Reward at last for seven weeks of wholehearted toil. Yet there he was, less than four hours later, plodding off the Bellerive Oval, the ninth wicket to fall in an innings of sorrows, dragging on after slapping Pat Cummins for a couple of fours over extra-cover – just for the lols. Helmet off, mouth set, eyes empty, head down, homeward he trod. This tour has sapped even Wood’s joie de vivre – an achievement, of sorts.
England have for some time been collapse specialists – pack detonator, will travel – but even by their standards this was a spectacular explosion of fortune. With just an over to go before tea, Zak Crawley and Burns had put together 68, England’s first opening stand of more than 50 in the entire series. There had been a few lucky breaks, a review survived here and there, but Crawley was creaming the ball with a golden spoon and Burns wore an air of busy purpose alongside his indie-band hair.
WinViz was absurdly confident, like the cocky young pup it is. Next-in Dawid Malan was spotted on the balcony wearing a cap with an almost jaunty air. Deep in the dressing room, perhaps Chris Silverwood was searching the internet for the ingredients needed for a sundowner. Wouldn’t it, you found yourself thinking to yourself, against all odds and the evidence of the last four Tests, be something for Joe Root to win the game and salvage something from the series with that longed-for Australian Ashes hundred?
From his two-metre vantage point, Cameron Green – Australia’s brightest of bright young things – produced a telling ball from around the wicket and Burns, conflicted, contrived to play on. His bemused shrug was a catalyst for the carnage to come.
After the break Malan was cracked on the helmet, before he too knocked Green on to his own stumps, also leaving with a shuffledown of despair. His tour has slipped from promise to purgatory, and was thrown into perspective overnight by the news that his wife had given birth to their baby six weeks early.
Root ran out to bat, legs somehow kicking onwards, one last push, one last weary hurrah. He soon lost Crawley, tempted into another drive by the magnificent Green and snaffled behind the stumps. Ben Stokes holed out before Root himself was done by a dirty grubber from Scott Boland that spat through under the bat. He permitted himself a deep breath, and a wry smile. It was over. A drawn man now, with watery blue eyes, carrying every one of England’s mistakes strapped to his own back, he could at least retreat in the knowledge that he’d got a screamer.
And then Cummins and Boland finished things off, the final five wickets disappearing for 23 runs. The Australians didn’t even have to claim the final half hour. Sam Billings pushed with hard hands to mid-on; Ollie Pope pottered into the wasteland on the off side, with thoughts of who-knows-what, but was left staring down at his dismantled stumps as if they were the remains of yesterday’s dinner. The padded-up bowlers looked as if they’d had enough. They went out swinging, with anger, frustration, disappointment – probably all three.
After Cummins bowled the retreating Robinson with a full toss, the debonair new baggy-green captain with the perfect teeth and the Midas touch, smiled. He exchanged a big bowlers’ handshake with Mitchell Starc: the two leading wicket-takers of the series content with their work.
And England? Many threads make up a story, but, yikes, the stats: England put together only eight partnerships of over 50. And their batting average in this series is 20.21, the lowest in an Ashes series since 1890.
And then the faces. At the presentation, there was not a smile to be seen from the batsmen, who’d had time to change into their leisurewear, or the bowlers, who had not. Root seemed on the edge of tears as Adam Gilchrist threw down the gentlest of questions – you know you’re in trouble when even the Australians feel sorry for you.
It’s hard to summon up triumphalism when the opposition fold so quickly. And like a breath of wind on a house of cards, England were gone.