Ashes: Australia clinch title, Joe Root and Co look for miracles
Hosts clinch urn at WACA's Ashes swansong with two matches to go, leaving Joe Root's England to get into miracle-hoping mode for late revival in Boxing Day Test at Melbourne and New Year's game in Sydney
England's Ashes tour unravelled first in the bar and then on the pitch. By the time Joe Root's men returned to Perth, scene of Jonny Bairstow's curious headbutt greeting on first meeting with Cameron Bancroft, they had left themselves zero wriggle-room in defence of the urn. So much of this winter's off-the-field troubles were avoidable but received extra attention only because of the moment back in September which, as belatedly acknowledged by Root and his captaincy predecessor Alastair Cook, 'changed the world for English cricket'. Ben Stokes' absence on tour, as he waits still to hear whether he will be charged with causing actual bodily harm outside a Bristol nightclub, has undoubtedly been a key factor behind England's series defeat.
All 11 Australians are captured in one frame after Pat Cummins claimed the final wicket of England's Chris Woakes during Day Five of the third Test at the WACA ground in Perth yesterday. PIC/Getty Images
None of the other shenanigans, however regrettable, have played a significant part in the loss of the urn before Christmas. Yes, loss of judgment over drink - as appears to have happened at least once - does England no favours when it comes to public perception. But the gulf between them and Australia is measured in runs and wickets, and the glaring truth is that - more than most anticipated - in these conditions, with their senior players ageing and captain short of his best, they have been outclassed. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon add up to a highly potent attack. Faced with that quality, Root and England's coaches correctly identified the best chance was to bat for as long as possible and expose the limitations of Australia's resources. Each time they tried, though, they were unable to match even that pragmatic ambition.
In three Tests they managed only a 50 per cent success rate in lasting until the second new ball while Australia missed the benchmark once, in Adelaide. It is no coincidence that Steve Smith had a quiet pink-ball match, but was immovable elsewhere. Root, by contrast, arrived on tour touted as his opposite number's near equal in the global batting stakes but has been unable to justify the lofty billing. England's most notable no-shows, though, have been Cook at the top of the order, Stuart Broad and his five wickets at more than 60 each and Moeen Ali's respective averages of more than 100 with the ball and barely 20 with the bat. It all adds up to a mismatch, and Perth brought about its cruel culmination. There are two Tests left - but England may as well first allow themselves a glass or two of Christmas solace in Melbourne before they have to face the music again.
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