Ashes series: Australia's nightmare innings unfolded in Broad daylight

Australia's Chris Rogers (centre) during the fourth Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia on Aug 7, 2015.
Australia's Chris Rogers (centre) during the fourth Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia on Aug 7, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

So I have this theory. Perhaps all the Australian Ashes cricketers have the same middle name, Nick. They nicked everything yesterday. No middle-of-the bat cover drives. No hooks. No pulls. No judicious mix of defence and aggression.

Nope, eight of them nicked catches to the England cordon.

It was like watching lemmings. I've never seen a Test side being bundled out in 18.3 overs. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen a one-day international side being bundled out in 18.3 overs.

Some sporting entrepreneur is going to make a squillion by editing the highlights of the 90-minute surrender that was Australia's first innings. Sorry, did I say "editing"? Actually it won't need much editing at all. At 18.3 overs, you might as well market the whole thing.

It's a lot shorter than many of the Oscar-winning movies I can remember. Also, it'll have all the classic elements - drama, unexpected heroism, hubris, a big crescendo, revenge and an unexpected ending.

No need for a soundtrack, referred to in Hollywood and in musical circles, as a score. It'll have its own score: 60. But that's not really a score, that's a shambles. And whether the fall of the last wicket was a tragedy or a happy ending depends largely on whether you have an Australian or a British passport.

Tell me if you've ever watched a Test match where one side has bowled out the other and then taken a 214-run lead at the end of the first day. Gremlins? No, there were no gremlins in the pitch. England navigated their way through the rest of the day on the same pitch and got to 274-4 at the end of the day's play, underpinned by an unbeaten century by Joe Root.

England, remember, were beaten by 405 runs in the second Test and went into this Test without their one of their best bowlers, James Anderson. Yet, the way they bowled and caught was exemplary. They were clinical, efficient and unexpectedly deadly. Alastair Cook had asked his men to stand up and make history and they responded nobly, none more so than Stuart Broad.

There was an interesting conversation, a couple of days before the fourth Test, between Broad and his father Chris, who played 25 Tests for England between 1984 and 1989 and who brings extra perspective to the game from his time as an ICC match referee.

Broad the Younger needed just two wickets in Australia's second innings in the previous Test to get to 300 Test scalps but only got one. So Broad the Elder listened as his son said he told him about the situation and silently fretted that perhaps he was too focused on the landmark, rather than the big picture.

As it turned out, it took just three balls at Trent Bridge for Broad to get his 300th wicket - opening batsman Chris Rogers - and a scarcely believable return of eight wickets for 15 runs in just 57 deliveries.

As he followed up his first-over dismissal of Rogers, Broad also got rid of vice-captain Steve Smith, Shaun Marsh, captain Michael Clarke, Adam Voges, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon. Three instances of failure to score by Australia's top four batsman provided a greater percentage of ducks than in an elimination round of MasterChef.

But beyond the condemnation of Australia's batting and beyond, too, apportioning generous praise for the clinical efficiency of England's stranglehold on the Ashes, there must come an examination of Test cricket's enduring appeal and unpredictability and how such a seesaw series can produce a dominant Australian batting performance in the second Test - 566 for eight wickets declared - and then two abject failures in the space of the next three weeks.

Having batted their way to a 400-plus-run victory in the second Test at Lord's, Australia were bundled out for 136 in the first innings at Lord's with Anderson taking 6-47. That innings lasted just 36.4 deliveries - again, fewer overs than an ODI - but the capitulation on the first morning at Trent Bridge in less than 19 overs was a terrible blot on Australia's cricketing history. Were the Test team a blue-chip stock, it would be worth nothing now, and panic selling would be the order of the day.

A four-word phrase - occupation of the crease - is the very cornerstone of winning Test matches. And in this respect, Australia has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in less than a month. At Lord's, they batted for 149 overs and declared after losing only eight wickets, yet at Trent Bridge their batsmen capitulated in about the time it would take to fly the short-hop domestic route from Sydney to nearby Melbourne.

Broad's eight-wicket haul could well be the vital fulcrum for England's Ashes win and while his performance is nowhere near as dominant or destructive as Ian Botham's was in winning the 1981 Ashes series, it is still a remarkable chapter in the history of Ashes cricket.

Not surprisingly, the brevity and immediacy of social media captured Australia's shame in memorable fashion, too. Ramesh Srivats summed up the entire Australian scorecard in a single tweet, and even a Vine was able to capture all the dismissals.

Then there was the classic post from Queensland Police Service: "60 isn't just a speed limit it is now a test (sic) score."

Perhaps in 2025, a decade after this rout, a newspaper will interview Michael Clarke about his feelings in the dressing room as Broad ran rampant. You can bet your bottom dollar the photo accompanying the feature will show Clarke on a street with a speed limit sign clearly visible, with the figure 60 in the background.

dmcmahon@sph.com.sg