It’s tough to work out if Joe Root is in more physical pain or mental anguish after the crushing 275-run win for the Australians left a battered and bruised England on the canvas, barely clinging to life in this series.
There was no Pat Cummins or Josh Hazlewood, but if there’s one area that Australia possess an abundance of talent, it’s their stockpile of seam bowlers.
AS IT HAPPENED: Australia take 2-0 series lead
Michael Neser and Jhye Richardson stepped up admirably, the former taking a wicket in his first over as a Test cricketer, the latter getting the crucial breakthrough of Chris Woakes midway through day five when England for the first time may have started to believe they could hold on.
Still, the fact that Australia will casually welcome two of the best bowlers in the world back into the fold at the MCG shows that no matter how bad things have gotten for England, they aren’t likely to get better.
Even one of the biggest positives of the day — a stout performance from under-fire wicketkeeper Jos Buttler — came to an end in comically tragic fashion as he trod on his own stumps just after tea to essentially ensure the victory for Australia.
The English line-up raised a few eyebrows, particularly opting for five seamers, which reached a farcical nadir on day four when Ollie Robinson was asked to bowl spin instead.
The visitors simply cannot go into Boxing Day with the same strategy — but they may be going nowhere regardless.
Historically, the mountain that Root and company must climb now is almost unscalable. Just once in 152 five-Test series ever played in cricket has a team lost the first two Tests and gone on to win the next three, and that was by Australia in 1936–37.
It seems unlikely that the heroics of that Australia team will be matched. Sir Donald Bradman alone amassed 690 runs across those final three Tests, almost as many as England have made across their two matches so far.
Buttler treads on his own stumps
There’s obviously not a Bradman coming through the door to save the day, but nor is there a Kevin Pietersen, or an Andrew Flintoff, or a Michael Vaughan, the latter of whom perhaps put it best on Saturday night when he said that “the honest facts are that Australia are a better cricket team in all facets of Test cricket“.
Perhaps they can glean something from their resolute display on a fifth day wicket, stretching what seemed a foregone conclusion into a mildly tense final session.
But given what we’ve seen so far, moral victories may be all England can settle for.
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