When it’s this hard to know where to begin perhaps it’s best to start with the bare facts.
The tourists spent more time in coronavirus quarantine to enter Australia than it took them to lose the urn.
After abject displays in Brisbane and Adelaide the more optimistic – or naive – England supporter may well have kidded themselves into believing it couldn’t get any worse but this latest surrender, at the MCG in just seven sessions of cricket, plumbed new depths.
England’s already beleaguered second innings resumed at 31-4 on day three with Joe Root and Ben Stokes hoping to dig in, to bat time and try and give Australia something to chase in their second innings and maybe, just maybe save the Ashes.
Instead Stokes fell to Mitchell Starc after just 20 minutes and Root followed him to the pavilion soon after as England lost their final five wickets in 30 balls for a total of just 68 and an innings defeat before lunch on the third day.
That Australia could win by such a margin having only made 267 themselves is as sublime as it is ridiculous, the total the lowest to win in such a manner since 1986.
In the months prior to this series many people wondered whether the Ashes would start at all given the current coronavirus climate and the challenges that are inherent within that. In so many ways for England, they never did.
Ever since Rory Burns’ was castled by the very first delivery of the series, England have been thoroughly and utterly outclassed by their hosts here. There have been whitewashes on Australian soil before of course, back in 2006/07 and 2013/14, but none have felt quite like this, quite so hopeless with England so clearly and tangibly out of their depth.
Australia have been superb, their gameplans expertly executed and selections astute, but they are still the same side that less than 12 months ago were beaten by India’s third string. Shane Warne and Steve Waugh they are not.
That excellent debutant Scott Boland – six for seven from four overs – hadn’t even played Test cricket before running through England’s batting lineup is damning while out of form opener Marcus Harris outscored all of them on his own.
Root did make some wanted history here, passing 1,700 runs for the calendar year for the third most in the history of the game. That he moved past a player of the calibre of Sir Viv Richards in doing so shows the class of company Root the batsman now keeps. That England’s next best after him is Burns, a player now dropped on this tour, nearly 1,200 behind is even more telling. The extras column is third.
The fact England have wasted a career year from Root is perhaps as dispiriting as anything in all of this. That they are currently in this position despite boasting the best batsman of this generation and their best bowler of any generation is maybe even more so. James Anderson produced some of his very best with the ball to drag England back into the match on Monday. He of all people didn’t deserve to be there with bat in hand less than a day later as the urn was lost.
Former England quick Steve Harmison, who won the Ashes famously in 2005 but also lost it 5-0 in 2007, labelled the performance “embarrassing” and accused this current side of showing “no fight”. He wants to see a “reset” akin to the one that turned around England’s white ball fortunes after the T20 World Cup failure in 2015. Root too hinted at similar but what form that takes remains to be seen.
“With where the game is at in our country right now, the only place you can really learn is in the hardest environment, with what is quite a young batting group,” he captain said. “They’re having to learn out here in the harshest environments.
“You look back at 2015 and the reset that happened in white-ball cricket and maybe that’s something that needs to be happening in our red-ball game as well.”
Head coach Chris Silverwood, who clutched at the “positives” in the wake of this latest wreckage, is surely doomed while Root’s position as skipper feels delicate at best.
That the best candidates to take over from him, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali, are either coming back from an extended period away from the Test arena or in a permanent one is perhaps as telling as anything.
The ECB is one of the most well-backed organisations in sport and, alongside their Indian and Australian equivalents, benefit from the immense privileges that come along with that. They control the world game yet, as the evidence of the last few weeks shows, remain woefully and embarrassingly behind.
Quite how a board of executives that shared out £2.1m in bonuses a year ago justify them now is anyone’s guess.
This latest defeat is a record-equalling ninth in a calendar year and a 12th from their last 13 contests in Australia. Unfortunately for an emotionally and physically battered and bruised England there are two more to go, in Sydney next week and Hobart later next month, before they are mercifully put out of their misery.
The repercussions of this latest chapter, however, will linger far longer.