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Demoralised by demons

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Ashes 2013: Australia wins the second Test

Australia's bowlers put the England team out of its misery in Adelaide on Monday, winning the Test match by 218 runs.

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Two balls, the fourth and fifth of the day, told the story of the morning, and of the series so far. The first, Stuart Broad pulled with a resounding crack over mid-wicket for six. The second, he hooked straight to deep square leg, where Nathan Lyon took a neat tumbling catch. The beneficiary was Peter Siddle.

Less than an hour later, it was all over. England had added 65 at almost a run a ball, but lost all four remaining wickets in a jittery rush. Matt Prior, after Broad the last repository of English hope, was out the same way, neatly caught at fine leg, bowled Siddle. His was the 21st English wicket to fall to a leg-side catch in this series. Prior had made an overdue and pugnacious 69, but stoicism, not pugnacity, should have been the keynote for this moment and day. Adverse weather swirled, and for all England knew, would intervene imminently and save it.

Australia barely bowled a ball that the English batsmen needed to play, but they played at them all anyway. Their approach betrayed addled minds, perhaps full of the image of a leering Mitch Johnson bearing down on them again. Actually, Johnson was less menacing this day on this Bermuda Triangle of a pitch, on which good bowling disappeared and was never seen again. Prior cut and pulled him with impunity, the first to do so in this series. But that served only to highlight England's general wrongheadedness.

England captain Alastair Cook speaks to the media after Australia's victory in the second Test on Monday.

England captain Alastair Cook speaks to the media after Australia's victory in the second Test on Monday. Photo: Getty Images

"We had to show some fighting spirit," said England captain Alastair Cook, by way of explanation. "We had to try and fight as long as we could." But England's remaining batsmen mistook lashing out for fight. Fight is what Joe Root did on Sunday. In cricket, wonderfully perverse game that it is, fight sometimes involves the inversion of an old maxim to say: "Evil is something that is averted when good men do nothing." Root and his splendid feat of inertia were betrayed.

Cook said it was not for the lower middle order to do what the leading men had not. But it was this day. The remaining batsmen were not without pretensions. Prior averages 41 in Test cricket, Broad 34 and Graeme Swann 22. Three or four hours of their resolve might not have rescued England here, but it would have emboldened them for the next Test in Perth, later this week.

It would also have detained and wearied Australia's bowlers, complicating planning for Perth. Johnson's 24 overs were about the maximum Australia would have preferred him to bowl here. Exactly a year ago, on a grinding last day in Adelaide, Australia drew the second Test against South Africa and effectively lost the third when none of its complement of pace bowlers could back up. The possibility of a repeat has exercised Australian minds since the schedule was announced.

Long road back. After being thrashed twice, England must regroup in little time, for a Test in Perth. Click for more photos

Australia takes 2-0 Ashes lead

Australia takes a 2-0 Ashes lead, finishing off England on day five at the Adelaide Oval. Photo: Getty Images

But England in its current demoralised state is incapable of imperial occupation of the crease in the style of South Africa here last year and England here three years ago. The contrast between England then and now is marked. Asked if England was as driven now as then, Cook gave an elliptical reply, saying only each individual could affirm it for sure. Johnson et al have asked the same question in more direct and confronting manner.

Cook blamed sloppy catching and poor shot selection for his team's predicament as much as Australia's formation bowling. But in the background of all analysis is Johnson, a brooding and disconsolate figure when dropped for this match three years ago, suddenly man-of-the-match in both Tests of this series. His bowling has been a jolt to all sensibilities. He embodies the seeming miracle of this Ashes turnaround.

In the last part of Australia's tour of England, and throughout the prelude here, Australia talked constantly and darkly of how different it would be in Australia, "in our conditions". So it has proved. Siddle's field when bowling to Anderson on Monday consisted of four slips, short cover, short leg, leg slip, leg gully and forward square leg. It may not have been seen at the Adelaide Oval since Bodyline. One consequence is that this series is being played in a conspicuously nasty temper. Both sides have been at fault, and timid oversight has not helped. Umpires have not acted overtly against bowling that has bordered on intimidatory, nor antics that have bordered on childish. The umpires here did report Johnson and Ben Stokes, but their charge was thrown out without even a warning. It is as if the officials are as cowed as some of the batsmen.

In the infamous finish in Brisbane, Australian captain Michael Clarke threatened Anderson with a "broken f...ing arm". In the finish in Adelaide, as Anderson was pummelled by Siddle, Watson, standing at slip, but hardly on high moral ground, cackled at the sight. It was just as unedifying. It is one thing, and a very proper Ashes thing, to relish the spectacle of the English on the run, another to go catcalling after them.

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