Only a monsoon or a doughty Australian fight-back Friday could prevent the English cricket team giving Australia a 3-1 hiding in the Ashes series in the fifth and final Test in Sydney.
The former looked a more likely prospect than the latter, with the home side still 151 runs short of making England bat again after the visitors scored a massive 644 runs in reply to Australia’s meagre 280.
The locals will resume on 7-213, meaning the clatter of the three remaining wickets is all that stands between England and its first series success in Australia for 24 years.
“It’s not great to be a part of something that’s been as disappointing as it has over the last little while in Test cricket, to be honest,” opening batsman Shane Watson said. “Going into this Ashes series, I always thought there were going to be defining moments in our careers, and there has been – maybe on the wrong side, unfortunately.”
It would be the first time in 133 years that Australia has lost three Tests in a series by an innings and would see the nation fall behind Sri Lanka into fifth place in the International Cricket Council’s Test ranking.
South Africa, India and England are now the three leading teams.
Speaking before the Sydney Test, all-rounder and former England captain Kevin Pietersen said a 3-1 scoreline would reflect the disparity between the teams.
“We want to win the series overall and take the Ashes back to the UK properly,” he said. “I know that the country is going nuts about it. It’s the best thing in the world to know that everyone is supporting us in England.”
Captain Andrew Strauss will take some records back along with the Ashes trophy.
Under his leadership, England has scored 600 against Australia not once but twice; the only other plus-600 tally since World War II was in 1964 at Manchester’s Old Trafford ground.
“There’s no doubt there’ll be an inquest,” Watson said of a series that has exposed Australia’s weakness in bowling, batting, fielding and running between the wickets.
“Of all the differences this summer, the clearest is intelligence,” said Sydney Morning Herald writer Malcolm Knox. “It’s hard to remember an Australia team so repetitiously dumb.”
Ricky Ponting, 36, is tipped to lose the captaincy after a run of low numbers with the bat. Ironically, Ponting’s best hope of retaining the leadership is the abysmal form of vice captain Michael Clark, installed three years ago as the great man’s understudy and eventual replacement.
Like Ponting (series average 16), Clarke is short on runs, averaging 21 in the series coming into the Sydney Test, in which a modest 41 made him the top scorer among the vincibles.
Strauss and his conquering heroes have more to look forward to than a ride in an open-topped bus when they return to London. The talk is of knighthoods.