England collapse again in fifth Test as Australia ease to 4-0 Ashes series win | Ashes 2021-22


The final image of Joe Root at the end of a lamentable Ashes campaign was with a smile spread across his face. Not a happy smile, it should be noted, but one that was wry and disbelieving after the pink Kookaburra ball shot low under the England’s captain’s defence and crashed into the base of off stump.

As Root’s brain computed this grubber there was his executioner, Scott Boland, haring off in celebration. The Victorian’s rise from state stalwart to national treasure in the space of just a few weeks had once again delivered the scalp that Australia prized above all others; England were in tatters and a 4-0 series win for the hosts had turned into a full-blown inevitability.

If Root’s dismissal for 11 could be considered unfortunate then the same cannot be said for his team overall. They saved their very worst batting performance for last in a manner that cannot simply be put down to structural issues back home, losing all 10 wickets for 56 runs in the space of 22.4 overs for a 146-run defeat inside three days. “Incredibly soft” was Root’s incredibly generous verdict afterwards, not least when words like gutless, spineless or pathetic must surely have been on his mind.

Not that Australia were not impressive. Far from it. Defending a target of 271, they delivered another display of collective skill, hostility and energy that has proved beyond their visitors all series. Pat Cummins has led his team magnificently and was fittingly the bowler who delivered the coup de grace when, at 9.55pm local time, Ollie Robinson backed away, swished at the cool night air and heard the crash of timber behind him. But England were truly horrible in Hobart.

They had got the best of conditions too, winning the toss on a pitch that negated their lack of a front-line spinner and yet squandering a fast start when Australia lost three for 12 inside the first hour on day one. Mark Wood aside, who claimed a career-best six for 37 on day three, and perhaps Stuart Broad to an extent, this was a collective failure and not least with the bat given top scores of 36 by Chris Woakes and Zak Crawley in a match where Travis Head made a 112-ball century.

At the end of a series that had already witnessed collapses of 10 for 61 in Melbourne, eight for 86 in Adelaide and eight for 74 in Brisbane, perhaps the only surprise was that, briefly at least, the tourists had started to believe. Wood had claimed the wickets that his superior performances earlier in the tour arguably deserved more, bowling out Australia for 188 in the second innings with a barrage of bouncers, and the chase had begun in bright if slightly chancy fashion when Crawley and Rory Burns put on 68, England’s highest opening stand of the tour.

Australia’s Scott Boland (top) bowls Joe Root under the lights.
Australia’s Scott Boland (top) bowls Joe Root under the lights. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

But unlike their visitors Australia have a complete attack that offers little respite once the headliners are grazing. And either side of the second interval it was Cameron Green, the tall and talented all-rounder, who delivered a telling three-wicket burst from which the guts came tumbling out, his extra height forcing both Burns and David Malan to chop on to their stumps – the latter after a vicious blow to the head – before Crawley’s ambitious drive was then edged behind.

Thereafter resistance was minimal with only Root blameless. Ben Stokes picked out long leg with a hook shot off Mitchell Starc on five, Sam Billings chipped a slower ball to mid-on and Ollie Pope was rather embarrassingly bowled around his legs as if recreating the first ball of the series in reverse. After the tail was wiped out, Cummins and Boland had joined Green with three wickets apiece and the home celebrations could begin in a more humble fashion than four years ago.

Rewind to 6.10pm local time and Wood was leading England off the field with the pink Kookaburra ball held aloft and applause ringing round the Bellerive Oval after the detonation of Cummins’s stumps had appeared to give his side a sniff.

Along with Broad, who claimed six wickets across the two innings, the 32-year-old had spearheaded an attack in which Robinson was dogged by his obvious lack of conditioning and Woakes ineffective; only the stone-hearted could begrudge him this moment.

Wood started poorly, admittedly, leaking 79 runs from his first 10 overs on day one, but then claimed nine for 73 in 24.3 and ended up as England’s leading wicket-taker with 17 at 26 runs apiece. He had also sent down 121.1 overs – more than any of his teammates – while averaging 89.6mph on the speed gun; that over half of these came after the Ashes were lost summed up the overthink that beset England from the outset (in this instance being rested in Adelaide after one solitary innings).

It will be a question that Ashley Giles must ask of Root and the head coach, Chris Silverwood, when the director of cricket writes up his series review, so too Broad’s absence on the green-top at the Gabba. The inquest should go well beyond a couple of elements of strategy and selection, however, and Giles himself faces a battle to justify his own retention, even factoring in the ill-wind of the pandemic that has combined with a ludicrous schedule handed down from the suits above.

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But for rain in Sydney, this Ashes series would have been a whitewash and so will English cricket’s inquest into the series be if it results in the exact same leadership and personnel come the next Test assignment in the Caribbean this March.



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